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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?



Sarah Mussi’s author website:

Sarah Mussi’s bio page


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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


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