Stakes in slice-of-life: Look, failing on math might not be the same as the end of the universe, but it is still bad, okay!
Slice-of-life is a genre that celebrates life as the often mundane -but not always- thing it is, you wouldn’t expect of it, for example, having its characters deal with the end of human civilization.
If our main character fails at their goal therefore, it is most likely that they would not pass the grade rather than erasing half of the population. So, are there really any stakes on slice-of-life?
Yes, and I would like to say that they’re even bigger than in the superhero genre (unless it uses slice-of-life techniques to tell its story, more on that later in the article).
I think that in popular media, at least, we think of raising the stakes as increasing the number of casualties of the falling of our hero. We go from New York, to all of the U.S. , to the earth, to the universe, to now, the multiverse (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
However raising the stakes is not about making them bigger but rather bringing them closer to your characters and therefore your reader.
Slice-of-life is a genre that shines at building a relationship between character and reader, in part because without compelling characters the genre doesn’t have that much to offer but, also because everything the character’s experience is something that most likely your reader will have experience too.
Unlike for example sci-fi, in which we can only imagine what it is like to live on mars, we probably all have felt that awkwardness at family dinners.
Additionally, the stakes are more closely linked to your character's goal. In slice-of-life (or adjacent genres) if you fail that driving test for the # time, you won’t be able to drive to California and have a shot at a seemingly better life (Reservoir Dogs, 2021-?).
Humans are very weird in that we often attribute the small things more value since they are directly affecting us. We say “poor world I guess, but do you think she fancies me?” In other words, our scope of consequences is far smaller than we like to imagine.
Outside of slice-of-life, I think that this technique can serve all genres (yes, is later). Having something that only the main character will lose gives more weight and speaks more about them as a “person” than the classic “I guess I’ll save the world because I live on it”.
An example could be Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, in which our protagonist is emotionally and personally invested in the destruction of his 4-brick-wall home and then a few pages later the author reveals to us that uh, is actually the whole earth getting demolished.
We get to conceptualize this loss better by first focusing just on one house, rather than throwing the bigger stake in the first page.
In the end whatever genre you are writing for just remember that the “small things” you or your character can lose are important too.
Ari Ochoa Petzo
is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects.
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