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Maintaining Suspense Throughout Your Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

When I set out to write Angel Dust, I came up with the concept that had in it the six ingredients of narrative drive I’ve discussed in previous posts. Below is my story concept for Angel Dust, to demonstrate how the first six secrets actually work in practice:

Serafina is one of the Seraphim, celestial beings who wait upon the right hand of God. And life in Heaven is sweet. Eternal happiness with more eternal happiness for dessert.
So who can blame Serafina when she is on duty at the Pearly Gates for gazing down onto Earth and looking longingly at one of the more serious bad boys in South London?
Before she realises it, she is staring down to get an even closer look. And Marcus is certainly worth looking at!  Tall, broad, gorgeously fit with glowing skin and glittering eyes, a god amongst men – if such a thing can exist.
But Heaven has rules. Rules that even angels must obey, and when Serafina is ordered to deliver Marcus his death, things start to go seriously wrong.
First of all she saves his life instead of ending it. And when she tries to put that right, she seriously messes up his death.  Soon she is in too deep. She is terrified God will find out. To make matters worse,  Serafina is falling in love and she realises that, if she is to keep Marcus with her, she must save his soul, for he is on borrowed time and not bound for Heaven.
If only there were more time. Time for him to repent. Time for her to win his love…
But Serafina hasn’t got time. She must make a split second decision. There is only one solution. Send another in his place to Hell to buy more time, by making a pact with Lucifer…

At this point you can see how it starts to work.

Create a collision course for your protagonist and your antagonist

Angel versus Devil.

Create a promise that something significant is going to happen

The outcome of who will triumph (Angel or Devil) is uncertain, therefore something has to happen.

Make sure that thing that is going to happen matters to the main character

The ‘something’ is Marcus’s soul. Getting sent to Hell or being saved and allowed to go to Heaven are high stakes.

Be wicked and mean to your main character

Being in love is a kind of jeopardy. Serafina is suffering and she has failed in her ‘task’. She has crossed over to the ‘dark side’ without meaning to and is in danger of bringing God’s wrath down on herself. Mean enough?

Create a goal for your main character

Serafina’s goal is set from the minute she sees Marcus. She is determined to save him from Hell. (The Devil wants exactly the opposite – to claim Marcus’s soul and take it to Hell.)

So what happens next? How do you develop a story idea to make it stay interesting throughout the whole story arc.

Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 7

drum roll…  tada!

Focus every action of your main character toward achieving something that moves them nearer to their goal.

The continual expectation of something significant about to happen keeps readers determined to find out what does happen.

Just think of the football match again. Most people prefer to watch it live. This is because once the outcome of the match is known its narrative drive is gone. Fans might still watch the match on a re-run but now their focus will be on other things i.e. not on the suspense of ‘who will win’ but on understanding the mystery of ‘how it happened’, which in itself is perhaps a subtler compulsion and worthy of a whole new series of posts.

How can you use this secret?  

  • Create a number of plot points (sort of steps) that will be needed to move your protagonist nearer to their goal.
  • Make sure each of these points in someway reverses the fortunes of your main character or forces your protagonist to make a choice and act on it.

WATCH OUT FOR THE EIGHTH SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP ON MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

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The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     Tarzan: The Savage LandsMary, Bloody MaryHurricane Song

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Creating An Underdog Character (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

This post, I believe, reveals one of the most important secrets in harnessing narrative drive. If you only do this one thing, it will go a long way to creating enough pace and tension to see your character through most of the story, without losing your teenage reader. It is a common enough ploy. It’s the cliff in the cliff hanger, the drama in melodrama, the thrill in a thriller.

 

The Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 5

drum roll…  tada!

Stack the odds against the main character 

Why will stacking the odds against the protagonist help create character empathy, ensure page turning and enthral your reader? Here’s why:

  • People dislike unfairness.
  • We root for the underdog.
  • We despise villains and overlords.
  • We’re naturally wired to rebel against tyrants.
  • The more unfair treatment is ladled out to our heroes the more we care about them and want them be free of their oppressors.
  • The braver the underdog the more we are hooked into their story.

Fair enough?

If the reader has already invested empathetically with the protagonist, then stacking the odds against them will help readers care about your character  and what happens to them.

How you can use this secret?

  • Treat your character unfairly
  • Put them in jeopardy Injure them, if appropriate
  • Don’t let up on them for more than a page
  • Don’t rescue them.

Can you think of how this device is used in novels you’ve read?  What about The Hunger Games - just try to count the ways that Katniss is:

  • Treated unfairly
  • Put in jeopardy
  • Injured
  • Not let up on
  • Not rescued.
  • Tricked
  • Oppressed
  • Hunted

Need I say more?

WATCH OUT FOR THE SIXTH SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP IN MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

     

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The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     The HuntingNecromancing the StoneSparkRikers High

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Creating Empathy For Your Characters (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

Just in case you are only now joining this series of posts, I’m going to reiterate a brief resume of my opening comments in post one, where I wrote that getting teenagers to read is a tough job. I pointed out that we know they have plenty of other things do with their lives, so as writers of novels for teens we need to roll up our sleeves and apply every tactic known to the craft of storytelling to get them not only to pick up our books but to carry on reading them when they’ve got past the initial storytelling hook.

In this post I’m going to share with you more on narrative drive and how to keep teenage readers glued to those pages.

The Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 4

drum roll…  tada!

  • whatever is ‘going to happen’ must matter to the reader 

To put this in context, remember in post three I wrote that the reader needs to be made the promise that ‘something is going to happen’ and that it will be worth reading on for. In order to encourage your reader to carry on reading you need to let them know the outcome is important.

Here’s the trick - you can only make the final outcome matter if the reader empathises with the protagonist.

So how can you seduce a reader into empathising with your main character?

I have a plan…

How you can you use this secret? 

  • Create a character who is likable (it sounds simple but you’d be surprised how often this is neglected).
  • Create a character who is a bit like your reader.
  • Give your character a huge hunger for a positive final outcome.

You can probably work out why the protagonist needs to be like your reader but why the ‘huge hunger’? As soon as we know someone wants something very badly we tend to want them to get it - in short we (mankind) love to see people’s desires fulfilled.

WATCH OUT FOR THE FIFTH SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP IN MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

     

Australia (and beyond)

The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     VibesProject 17Raven SpeakAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Setting Up A Suspenseful Plot (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

I hope you have been sufficiently hooked to follow my series of posts. (Maybe it’s time to observe that getting people to read a blog post is a tough job too!)

Never mind. As a writer of young adult fiction I have learned a few tricks of the trade and the one thing that I’ve learned over the years that has been most effective in hooking Young Adult readers is how to harness the energy of narrative drive.

For narrative drive helps create compelling stories and keeps the reader glued to the pages. So let’s get straight on with…

The Secrets of Narrative Drive

Secret Number 3

drum roll…  tada!

  • A strong opening must set up the promise that something worthwhile is going to happen.

But why? I hear you ask. And these are the reasons:

A strong opening must promise the reader that something worthwhile is going to happen because this will make the reader feel it is worth carrying on reading. This sounds simple but it’s a bit more tricky than it seems.

Firstly, ‘something worthwhile is going to happen’ should not be confused with curiosity. Mere curiosity, or not knowing something, is not enough to stimulate the interest of the reader over the course of a novel. Secondly, the willful withholding of information in order to ‘arouse interest’ or ‘create a surprise’ can be extremely annoying.  Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to read a book like this knows the feeling. It’s counter-productive. It’s BOOK DEATH! So you have to be very cunning. These are the main things to remember and pitfalls to avoid:

  • Readers want a good ride, but
  • Readers are concerned the investment of their time and money will be wasted, so
  • Readers, especially teenage readers, are suspicious of writers.

So how can the writer convince the reader to keep on turning the pages?

The reader needs the promise that the reveal is worth waiting for, that the ‘something that is going to happen’ cannot be missed out on. In short that it is meaningful.

So how you can use this secret? 

  1. The battle of forces between the protagonist and the antagonist sets up the first expectation that something will happen, because only one force can win.
  2. So be sure you focus on the main conflict – keep it in view at all times.
  3. It also makes sense to establish what is at stake for each of these two opposing forces – in football if we know it is the World Cup they are playing for we are significantly more interested in the outcome of the match.

There are many examples of plots where ‘something worthwhile is going to happen’ is at the center of compelling storytelling in fiction. It’s called suspense. Can you think of any brilliant examples?

WATCH OUT FOR THE FOURTH SECRET OF NARRATIVE DRIVE COMING UP IN MY NEXT POST

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Sarah Mussi’s author website: www.sarahmussi.com

Sarah Mussi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

     

Australia (and beyond)

The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     The RepossessionThe Traitor's KissShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Winter Town

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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