Raise the stakes. The stakes aren’t high enough. This story lacks stakes. Have you heard any of these lines before? Was it in regards to your story? Yikes. If that’s the case, you need to understand how stakes work. Once you know that, you’ll know how to add them to your manuscript.
But, what are stakes? They’re the fear factor of the story. They affect the suspense, conflict, and impact of the plot. Why are the characters doing what they’re doing? What will happen if they don’t do this? What will they lose? Often, the stakes are the life or death of the protagonist or that of someone they care for. But, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the outcome affects the world. For example, catch the villain, destroy the virus, or everyone will die. And other stories focus on intimate stakes. If a character doesn’t achieve his goal, he’ll be miserable.
So, what are stakes really about? Goals. Without them, your character wanders around doing things for no reason. There are no consequences and no rewards for what he’s doing. And therefore, the reader doesn’t care about him.
But the stakes need to be important to the character. If Sean needs to keep Kathy safe from a mob hit because that’s his job, then his job needs to be important to him. What will happen if he loses it? Of course, you can go a step further with this and have him develop feelings for her. Now, the stakes have just increased because if he fails to keep her safe, not only will he lose his job, but the love of his life, too.
Now, go back to your WIP and double check if your stakes are high enough. And even if you think they are, can you possibly make them higher? Can you punish your poor character even more?