Drive provokes curiosity in readers. “And then what happened?” is the question readers ask to find out what comes next in a story. A story with a lot of drive keeps readers turning pages.
Curiosity is such a strong force that people cannot resist. It killed the cat, right? But, despite the sayings, it doesn’t always lead to a bad place. Readers enjoy diving into a book head first to satisfy their curiosity. The more readers want to find out, the more glued to pages they are to find out what happens next.
Drive is usually connected to action and events rather than thoughts and feelings. When readers talk about stories, they say “then what happened?” not “then how did she feel?” This doesn’t mean that readers don’t want to know how she felt, it means that first readers need to know what happens and when they do, they expect to find out what she thought and felt as part of the details of what happened.
Remember above when I said curiosity doesn’t always lead to a bad place? Well, inside the book, it usually doesn’t lead to good places. Which is precisely why it’s interesting for readers. Characters need to face considerable adversity almost to the point that readers are glad not to experience it first hand.
Commercial style books have a lot of drive by definition, hence the term “plot-driven.” A story’s drive relates to the events and actions in the story. Frequently, what happens next isn’t the typical action that readers expect because the joy of finding out what happens next is to be surprised at the unexpected. When a firefighter bursts through the door, readers want to know what happens next. Does the firefighter start putting out the fire? Or, does the firefighter look for trapped people? Or, “Surprise!” is that just Dad dressed in a fireman’s outfit to celebrate a child’s birthday? Surprise indeed.
Literary books, which are character-driven, also have drive, but they usually have different types of questions that readers want to find out chiefly related to character exploration. In other words, the reader wants to know not just what happened next but why the character did something seemingly incomprehensible.
If a book doesn’t have enough drive, readers stop reading. Loss of engagement means no longer feeling connected to the characters and the story to find out more. In other words, losing curiosity. Because of that, it’s the author’s job to keep the drive going in a story so that readers will want to find out what happens next. If the characters and predicaments aren’t interesting enough, readers won’t care about finding out what happens next.
One way to heighten drive is to make sure that the end of each chapter contains a question that makes readers want to turn the page immediately and continue with the next chapter. While chapter endings usually stop at the end of a scene or something wraps up, they must also contain the seed for the next step in the story so that readers have an urge to keep going. And stating a question is a good way to get readers thinking about possible answers.
The climax should hold the answer to one of the central questions that has been driving the story. Finally, as the protagonist experiences the biggest challenge of the story, readers find out answers to key questions that have contributed to the mounting tension. The resolution, then, ties up loose ends by explaining unanswered questions related to various characters and subplots. The sense of an ending in part comes from the drive winding down as questions are answered.
Drive is the force that compels readers to turn pages. With plenty of drive, readers will wish the book wouldn’t end.
by Jennie Dunham
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