Narrative drive is the energy of a story, the force that propels it forward, the promise that something important is going to happen. You create a strong narrative drive with a focused story goal, strong characters, and the questions you raise in readers’ minds.
For example, in the beginning of my novel More Deaths Than One, Bob Stark is reading that day’s newspaper when he comes across the obituary of his mother, who he had buried twenty years before. This scene generates so many questions that it should be impossible for readers to put the book down until they get the answers to at least a few of the questions. Is the obituary a hoax? If not, how could his mother have died twice? What is Bob going to do? How is he going to find out the truth? How would I react if this happened to me?
When Bob goes to the cemetery to check it out, he sees himself (or rather, a man who looks exactly like him) standing by the open grave with his college sweetheart and a passel of children, which raises the granddaddy of all questions — what the hell is going on? Bob wants to know, and so do readers. (At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.)
I began Daughter Am I with a question. “Who were James Angus Stuart and Regina DeBrizzi Stuart?” Mary asked, trying to ignore the mounted heads of murdered animals staring down at her from the lawyer’s wood-paneled walls. Even though that question is the theme of the book (and “murder” a foreshadowing of events to come) and hopefully will be the question that readers want to know, just voicing the question out of the blue like that is nothing to drive the story. But, as the chapter continues, and we find out that James and Regina are Mary’s grandparents who were recently murdered, leaving her their farm, and that her father claimed they were dead — Now that raises questions. Who were James and Regina, and what did they do that was so horrible their son disowned them?
By the time a few of these questions are answered, if I did my job correctly, I will have raised more questions to which readers will want the answer, and so the story is propelled forward to a satisfying ending.
If the story goal isn’t focused enough, if the characters are weak, the questions the story raises in readers’ minds falls under the heading of “who cares?” Why am I reading this? Why isn’t anyone doing anything to resolve the problem? When is something going to happen? Not questions you want readers to ponder!
What about you? What propels your story forward? What questions does your story (ideally) raise in readers’ minds?