Monday 24 February 2020

Guest Blogger: Leisl Leighton

 The Importance of Narrative Drive

I’ve been building a little side-business over the last year and a half - manuscript assessment and mentoring - and every manuscript I assess, every author I mentor, makes me think more deeply about what it is we do to write our stories, how we go about it, the choices we make and the effort we put into learning to grow and make our writing as good as we can.

What makes a good story?

Writing teachers talk about a lot of things - POV, tense, GMC (goals, motivation, conflict), the Three Act Structure, voice, place - and each of those things is incredibly important to build the right narrative drive for your story. If one of these isn’t spot on, then the narrative drive isn’t right and the story falls down. Badly structured narrative drive is more often than not responsible for manuscripts that meander around but never get anywhere, or the saggy middle, or the end that fizzles.

What is narrative drive?

Writers often think narrative drive is the same as structure - it’s not. Narrative drive is more than what makes up the plot and how. It’s more than ‘add protagonist’s journey here’. It’s more than GMC and the all-important Three Act Structure. Put all of these together, add voice and you have narrative drive.

It took me some time to understand narrative drive and all the elements that make it work. Now that my ninth published book is about to be released in May (Blazing Fear), I feel that I have come to understand it intimately. 

All the work that goes into redrafting and editing my novels is in service to narrative drive. It’s the thing that I bang on about the most when doing assessments and what I teach when I’m mentoring - teaching just about voice or conflict or structure individually isn’t enough to make a book speak to readers. Of course, I teach all of those skills because they are part of narrative drive!

How do I make my narrative drive work?

Narrative drive isn’t something that just comes. An author must make choices for it to work. That doesn’t mean you have to be a plotter - I’m not. I’m a pantser. But I still have to make choices at some time to decide how to structure the conflicts to drive the protagonist’s journey onward in a page turning way to a satisfying end. Some of those choices come easily, some require many rewrites, but in the end, everything is in service to the narrative drive. Making your narrative drive work is hard work, but it is all so worth it in the end. Once you have it and understand it, it is the key that will open the lock to a world of wonderful manuscripts full of the stories you want to tell, and do so in a way that shines.

What do you do to ensure you continue to hone your writing skills?

I love to love: Books that show me how to be a better writer.

I love to learn: About narrative drive and how to make it work better.

I love to laugh: With my writing friends as we work through our mistakes and improve together.


  1. I've never heard of narrative drive so thank you so much for letting us in on this part of the writing craft. Will be doing more research on this.

  2. Hi Leisl, thanks for an interesting post. I hadn't heard of Narrative Drive until quite recently when I read a blog piece by Janice Hardy. In it she provides a scene analysis to work out whether a scene that isn't working can be 'fixed' by revving up the narrative drive. It's well worth a read. Here's the link for anyone interested in researching the topic further:

  3. Hi Leisl, Thank you for the very interesting post! I'd never heard of narrative drive before today and am intrigued to learn more. I'll be checking out the link you posted Marilyn - thank you :)

  4. This has been a really interesting topic. Thanks for your insights, Leisl!

  5. Have to say, Leisl, a narrative drive certainly makes for a good read! No soggy middles or boring scenes anymore. So important to make a good book great. Thanks for a fabulous post, loved reading this. Now I've worked out why some books don't work... they've obviously neglected this important issue.

  6. Hi Leisl, thanks for such a thought provoking post. I’ve never heard of narrative drive before. I’ll have to study the concept in greater detail.


We love getting comments. Why not leave one?!