I came across a term called the Narrative Drive while doing research on Opening Hooks. The expression was unfamiliar to me at the time, so I decided I would dedicate an entire post to the subject.
Learn to captivate your readers drive!
The Narrative Drive can be described as the force which motivates a reader to keep reading. Curiosity and interest are the fuel which feeds this drive, so the writer must keep the audience asking questions while giving enough details to keep them invested. By creating this need to know what will happen next, the Narrative Drive helps point the audience in the right direction. Without this sense of direction, the story may feel unfocused.
In storytelling, this is usually achieved by following the exploits of a protagonist, giving them a worthwhile goal, then adding obstacles which put reaching said goal in doubt. By creating interesting characters dealing with a tense situation, the writer creates an unknown outcome, which encourages the reader to find out if the goal will be reached.
Not taking the Narrative Drive into consideration when writing can cause the story to feel flat. This usually happens when all pertinent information is given upfront in the story for everyone to see. Once the audience has access to all necessary information, they are left with no questions and see no point in going forward. Imagine a mystery novel where they tell you who did it in the first chapter; no point in going further, correct? In order to keep the reader’s Narrative Drive going, the writer must know what details to keep secret and when to reveal them. This method helps give a sense of reality or depth to a story.
Oppositely, if the writer attempts to hide too much information, then the audience will lose interest and move on to another book. It is important to remember that if the reader has too little information, then they have nothing to be invested in. Imagine a romance novel where we have no idea who the protagonist's love interest is; how can someone be interested in something not knowing what it is?
Here is a quick list of items to look out for when reviewing a story for its Narrative Drive:
- The goal should be clear: When going out on a drive, we like to know where we are going. It is the same when reading; the audience likes to have an idea of what the stories destination is (rescue the girl, stop the bad guy, save the world, etc.). Keep in mind, knowing the goal does not guarantee it will be reached.
- The goal should be worthwhile: In order to keep the reader's interest, the goal needs to be something worth striving for (again, rescue the girl, stop the bad guy, save the world, etc.). No one would read a story about a guy wanting to make a sandwich, only cause he’s hungry.
- The goal should take the forefront: There should be a difference between character motivations and character goals (see previous lessons for more details). Ideally, a character's motivation should align with the stories goal. There can be multiple motivating factors, but only one goal, or else the story may become cluttered.
- The risk should be high: The higher the stakes, the higher the odds the protagonist might fail at achieving the goal. This is a vital element of any story, as it is necessary to instill doubt in the reader's mind. With no doubt, there would appear to be no risk, therefore no interest. Imagine Superman facing an unarmed mugger; no real match there. Now imagine Superman facing an entire Alien armada; much more interesting.
- Action should flow: All narrative action should point in the same direction. This means whatever the character does has some impact on reaching the goal. If the action does not help gaining ground towards solving the goal, then it is superfluous and should be removed.
- Pay attention to you Narrative Voice: Making sure your writing flows and does not distract the reader from the story is also important. Be sure not to bombard the reader with unnecessary or overly complicated text (for more on this, see my previous posts on Style, Tone, Word Economy and Show and Tell).
As I mentioned earlier, controlling the Narrative Drive is all about the control of information the writer gives to the reader. Here are examples of how to control information, and the effects they have on the audience.
- Less: The reader has less information than the characters in the story. A good example for this are characters withholding information. For example a Serial Killer in a Thriller; the killer knows how and where he did it, but the reader might not. Missing information helps create mystery in the story, encouraging the reader to solve the mystery.
- Same: The reader has the same information as the characters in the story. This means the audience discovers clues/details/etc at the same pace as the protagonist. Since the reader has all the information, all they are left with is the question “what happens next”. This helps creates suspense in a story.
- More: The reader has more information than the characters in the story. This is most common in stories using a Omnipotent point of view (see my previous post about perspectives). A good example would be when the reader is privy to a character's thoughts, or knows about an incoming event (like an ambush). This helps create anticipation in a story.
In conclusion, a good Narrative Drive is the sign of a writer who has mastered the manipulation of information. Knowing when, what and how much to reveal is a necessary skill for any storyteller. I will be doing further research on the Narrative Drive in the future, in the hopes it will help me with my own writing.
I hope this lesson was helpful to you. Until next time!