I recently came across the idea of Low Stakes Fiction. These are books where what’s at stake isn’t saving the whole world or even saving the town. These are stories where the stakes are more personal. I feel like Romance novels often fall in this category. Many bildungsroman (the fancy word for Coming of Age children’s books) would also be this kind of book. Think Little Women. They don’t save the country in that book, just live the lives of four girls during and just after the American Civil War.
And I get why people would call these low stakes. Trying to survive in your day-to-day life doesn’t seem as exciting as saving the world from an Extinction Level Event comet.
To the person (or character) living that life, those stakes aren’t all that low.
Emotional stakes, especially, can be very high for the character. Whether or not a particular character in your YA book finds love might not be life or death to the book’s society, but it might be for the actual character.
And that’s why, I think calling something a Low Stakes book is actually a misnomer. Because to the characters in your children’s books, the stakes are going to be high. If they aren’t, then why are we reading about them?
Because let’s face it. Just like a conflict-free life, a low stakes life might be very pleasant to live, but it’s boring to read about. You need escalating stakes to keep your reader invested in your story. Whether those stakes are physical or emotional, they still need to be high for your character.
In the end, does the character in your children’s book or YA need to be The Chosen One? No, but they will have something at stake, something they are risking. And that will make us root for them even more.