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So, I think I might just have turned my fantasy setting into a Saturday morning cartoon. I just, don't want people to die within the world. There are monsters, with unlimited reserves of course: zombies, skeletons, creepers...

...Until we learn that they are all vegetables, and can't climb walls, so Is real is safe (for now).

It's just isn't an "adventure-friendly world" sure, you can kill the veggies, but for FIVE level 17-19 characters, it's closer to gardening.

But what about dragons? They're at around the size of a marsh deer (127 cm at the shoulder and 2 meters long, plus a 1 m long tail), and ever since Mephistopheles ended the human-dragon war with the help of magical STDs from the past century, they're more concerned with BUSINESS and the POLITICS of their domains. If live streams from the parliament were so interesting, I would be watching them instead of this site, which I'm evidently not doing.

So, there are conflict sources, but with no real stakes. If we took the focus away from Mephisto's overly-sad backstory, the mystery of Sunny Hills and the Dark Barrier, we would have nothing.

So, considering that death in this setting is not as much of a commonplace, how can I still raise the stakes in a meaningful way for the reader?

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    What is the genre you are writing? I don't mean "fantasy", because you can have different genres within the fantasy setting. Is it a fantasy Bildungsroman? A fantasy political thriller? A fantasy romance? All there genres have stakes without necessarily threatening the characters with death. – WWWW May 16 '18 at 19:15
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    @Weathervane I can't really categorize. It's supposed to be hard sci-fi that stumbles between, humor, philosophy, politics, mystery and mindless veggie carnage. – Mephistopheles May 16 '18 at 19:29
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    This episode of Writing Excuses might be helpful: "Raising the Stakes". Transcript here. – Standback May 16 '18 at 20:26
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    @LameZeldaPun So... basically Discworld? :) – xDaizu May 17 '18 at 13:55
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    A little bit off-topic (as it's from an rpg), but there is a wonderful example of non-violent conflict here: reddit.com/r/FATErpg/comments/460yty/… – Benubird May 17 '18 at 14:58
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There are other stakes than death. From all of Jane Austen to some of Asimov, sometimes the world isn't about to end, and nobody is about to die. So what else is there?

First, your story can be small: will the guy get the girl? That's Jane Austen. Will things work out financially for the MC? Hector Malot and Charles Dickens. Will a criminal be caught (and order restored)? Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Asimov's Robot series. (Yes, those are simplifications - there's more to the writing of each.)

If those stakes are not enough, and you do want a world-shaping plot, maybe there's something threatening the peace of the world. Maybe the vegetables are demanding equal rights. Maybe some corrupt human is interfering in dragon politics, attempting to instigate a coup. Maybe an asteroid is coming towards earth, and the humans, veggies and dragons have to work together to deflect it.

The possibilities are endless. Anything one has, one can lose - not just one's life, but one's property, relationships, hopes, aspirations. One can want things and struggle to gain them. All of those are stakes.

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    That's actually briliant, even though veggies are soulles robots and Mephisto would mine away Chixulub within minutes and sell all the iridium on etsy, everyone is seeking their own happines and place in the world, and that's some srs business right there. – Mephistopheles May 16 '18 at 19:38
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    +1, but Jane Austen is virtually always "will the girl get the guy?" – 1006a May 16 '18 at 21:35
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    @1006a Absolutely true. – Galastel May 16 '18 at 21:39
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    +1, and "small" stakes can have large ramifications for the characters experiencing them. For example, in Jane Austen's work, "Will the girl get the guy?" comes along with "Will the girl maintain her own character and principles or will she sell out to social pressure?" and "Will the girl ever be financially secure?" – MissMonicaE May 17 '18 at 20:06
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Three sources of tension/conflict according to Sanderson:

The intersection of plot and characters, =or= The intersection of plot and setting, =or= The intersection of setting and characters.

(and presumably between setting/setting, character/character, and plot/plot.)

Here I asked a question along the lines of your question because I didn't understand how plot/setting can conflict with one another. And I wanted to, because like you, I don't have a lot of death in my story. I don't want death in my story. But I needed more tension, I was told.

An answer to that previous question is slowly coming to me: A tense scene that conflicts plot and setting would involve a scary setting (in your case, maybe a Waring blender) standing in the way of plot progression. But there is no violence needed. Just a threat.

So: I've added a forest fire into my story, it's horrific, half the fictional booze is destroyed. "Oh no!" I've added a scuba diving incident too, also hair-raising, the tank springs a leak "Oh No!"

These are just a couple ideas I've now thrown in to perk up the chapters that were too saggy. These are plot/setting conflicts, I think. And that's my answer to the question of how to raise tension ... without death. The characters are dealing with scary threats but NO VIOLENCE is involved.

Separately, I've increased tension by having a character lose their magic halfway through act II (this is a character/plot conflict). And, I've put subplots into the story which aren't technically necessary for the plot but they 'fit' well enough, and they allow me to make sure each chapter feels like an advancement. (A couple chapters that originally just deepened character/world now also advance subplot lines.)

Hope something in there helps. I love the idea of less violence in stories.

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You can take a cue from Joanne Rowling and can create a world that is full of small scale drama and occasional dangers, but for the people who pay attention it is perfectly safe. And then there's an undercurrent of some evil force which may not be causing any deaths yet, but promises to be a danger to the whole world.

There is a lot of drama that does not require people dying. Friendship, love, betrayal, envy, lust, hate - all of it might be more difficult to write than scary adventures, but those sources of drama are much more common outside of Fantasy genre.

  • Misunderstandings are the greatest source of non-lethal threat in my life, and can take endless amount of drama and tension to even come to resolving, each overly ambitious step to resolve a seemingly simple situation can create further distance and confusion, ambiguity, mixed intentions, conflicting perceptions, poor timing, going too far in attempts, believing a false image of someone to be true then misinterpreting actions.. – Vix May 17 '18 at 11:42
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Have a read of:

Got High Concept: The Key to Dynamic Fiction that Sells! by NYT best selling author Lori Wilde.

It really helped me understand this in my own work.

In very basic terms:

The key to raising the stakes lies in your protagonist's GOAL. The idea behind 'high concept' is that your protagonist must have a goal, whether it's saving the love of his life from certain death, or small goals as @Galastel describes: will boy get girl, will girl get job, etc. But your protagonist must want something and it doesn't have to be external, it can be internal like joy, happiness, enlightenment, etc.

The conflict then comes from putting as many obstacles as you can in your protagonist's way that prevent him from reaching that goal. And those obstacles should get more and more challenging as the novel progresses, forcing your protagonist to fight harder and harder for that thing he wants (using his greatest strengths and confronting his crushing weaknesses to overcome those obstacles) until the climax when the final obstacle appears so untenable that all is lost. That's when your protagonist rises to the top and wins all.

This is a very basic description of conflict and it can take many forms and even be turned completely on its head in a tragedy. But conflict is where the stakes are heightened and it's bound up with the protagonist's goal.

Think of the majority of great novels out there and they'll have high concept: to marry well in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, to take revenge against the whale in MOBY DICK, to use sex as a weapon for control and exploitation in DANGEROUS LIAISONS, for the monster to find love or friendship in FRANKENSTEIN... etc. etc. No matter the narrative, the characters want or need something. And what stands in their way creates conflict and ups the stakes.

Have fun with your veggies!

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Note: It's hard for me to get a feel of your story from the description, so this answer may not apply to your case, but I think it's worth keeping the following in mind:


Stakes does not equal stakes that are in play for the whole world: the evil overlord that is about to destroy the whole land, an upcoming magical disaster, a tyrant who is threatening our realm. In other words, a danger for the whole of the universe or at least a country.

Despite the fact that archetypical fantasy/sci-fi usually includes it, it is worth remembering that this is not an obligatory plot point.

You story can work perfectly well when the only things at stake are things that matter to your MC(s). A fair amount of literature in all genres will never involve "high-level" world-encompassing stakes, and yet it can be perfectly tense and dramatic. Think: a parent struggling to raise their child well despite difficult circumstances, or a local politician trying to maintain dignity while staying in power, or a veteran dealing with trauma after coming back from the war.

In other words: remember that drama/tension does not directly result from the scale of the conflict in your story.

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BUSINESS and the POLITICS

There you have it. There are a lot of non-physical fears for those who engage in business and politics.

  • Losing their reputation
  • Losing their power
  • Losing their wealth
  • Losing their accomplishments

For some people, these can be very high stakes.

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