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.