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The Psychological Tool That Leads To Stronger Stakes

Stakes come in a variety of different levels. A lot of times, these are kind of motivations. For example, check out Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You may have seen this in your introductory psych classes forever long ago, but this is actually really helpful for determining stakes as well because, in general, the lower down the pyramid you go, the more visceral the reaction from people.

In general, for the hierarchy, you need to satisfy the low level before moving on to the next level. Once your food and your hunger and your thirst situation is solved, okay, I need to find some shelter. And once you find some shelter, you're like, 'Hey, I want to be in the shelter with someone.' And like, as you do that, you're like, 'Hey, I want to feel more comfortable with myself.' And, say, 'Hey, I don't just want to feel comfortable myself, I want to actually start achieving some goals that I have.' Obviously there is more fluidity and there are different combinations, but I hope the idea itself is clear.

These higher-level tiers can certainly work for stakes, but one of the potential issues is that the higher up you go, the more isolated it can be because if someone is struggling with a physiological need, it can be harder for them to connect with. 'I don't feel for this character. Like, what do I care if they get the job promotion? Yeah, why do I connect with that? I'm trying to put food on my table, like I have no connection with this dude up here.'

So this can also be helpful for stakes, like when you're trying to decide on your character, be like, 'Okay, what need am I solving? Am I solving a belonging need? Am I solving something related to the character's safety? They're fearing for their life, you know, or is it something that they're trying to achieve, like a higher purpose?' And the better you can understand that motivation for your character, the better the understanding of what the stakes actually are.

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