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Sustaining A Plot With Obstacles And Sub-Goals (Secrets Of Narrative Drive), by Sarah Mussi

Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi

In case you are a newcomer to this series of posts, I’ll summarise briefly what I have set out to do in them and how far I’ve got.

In post one I said: 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 for young adults 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. So far I’ve shared seven secrets that have helped me do that. They are:

  1. Create a collision course for your protagonist and your antagonist
  2. Relegate ‘literary genius’ to second place
  3. Create a promise that something is going to happen
  4. Make sure that ‘something’ matters very much to your protagonist
  5. Be wicked and mean to your protagonist
  6. Make sure your protagonist has a clear dramatic goal
  7. Make sure every action your protagonist takes is a step toward achieving the goal

That’s as far as I’ve got – so now for secret number eight.

Secrets of Narrative Drive 

Secret Number 8

drum roll…  tada!

Each focused action taken by your protagonist should rarely be achieved 

Here’s why:

  • If each action is met by an obstacle, each obstacle results in a sub-goal
  • The plot (drawn from the character) becomes movement toward your protagonist’s goal through obstacle and deflection toward a sub-goal, encountering a new obstacle, deflection toward a new sub-goal and so on until the climax of the story
  • This creates the continuing tension of something meaningful always about to happen… while delivering happenings

So how you can use this secret?

  • Make sure your protagonist fails in each action toward their goal.
  • Make sure it is the action itself that causes the failure
  • Create a new ‘sub goal’ to overcome the problem an obstacle poses to your protagonist achieving their goal



Sarah Mussi’s author website:

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The Door of No ReturnThe Last of the Warrior KingsAngel Dust     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Code Name VerityCleopatra Confesses

Writing Teen Novels

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