What is it that creates the sensation of story drive?
There is no
one single thing that does, of course (no surprise). A character with
goals, a sense of danger, making sure not to include any irrelevant
description (or any description that doesn't fit with the mental state
of a protagonist in a dangerous hurry). But that generally is what
happens within the narrative, as you're reading along through a chapter.
How do you sustain story drive over a chapter break?
Point 1: A cliffhanger ending alone is not sufficient.
come in different forms. Someone can be literally hanging from a cliff,
can make a dangerous discovery, etc. Anything that makes a reader go
"Aigh, what happens next?" Just make sure not to keep the answer hidden.
Pick it up in the very next sentence if possible. I can't tell you how
frustrating it is to be left demanding the answer to something and then
either have the answer appear in backstory to the next chapter so you
never see it, or have the next chapter not address the question at all.
It doesn't have to answer the question directly, necessarily, but please
don't make me ask that question and then hide the answer outside the
narrative. "Aigh" quickly turns into "Argh!"
Point 2: A continuous timeline is helpful for drive, but not necessary.
really really like switching chapters inside of a critical moment. One
chapter ends one second, and the very next second, the next one starts.
For example, I have one direct handoff (this is my nickname for them)
where Tagret's father takes him into a room and Tagret discovers that
his father has been interviewing the servant Aloran. This is a real
shock for Tagret because it's a move that will really upset his mother,
and he's been fearing that his father is hiding something from his
mother. The instant he makes the discovery, I switch chapters and begin
with Aloran going, "Oh, no, it's Tagret!" We already know what the
stakes are for Tagret, and it's less obvious how Tagret walking in is
bad news for Aloran...but it is, and switching to his point of view
allows me to show that, and then have Aloran take the narrative in a
different direction immediately thereafter.
When you are using a
continuous timeline, even if you aren't using a direct handoff, your
readers don't have to do the work of re-orienting themselves every time
they start a new chapter. This is work that will pull them off the drive
of the story conflict, so if you want high drive, try to reduce the
amount of orientation work they have to do at the beginning of any
Point 3: Even without a cliffhanger, and even without a
continuous timeline, you can create a sense of direct continuity between
The way I recommend doing this is to look for cohesion elements.
These are things that readers will recognize because they have seen
them in the previous section of narrative, and they then show up in the
next. Cohesion elements are very flexible. For example, you could have
an object in the first piece and then have it appear in the second
piece: I'm imagining a scene where a criminal encounters a hand mirror
at a crime scene, and then in the next section you have the detective
picking up the mirror to examine it as evidence. (I'm sure you've seen
this done on TV also!) It doesn't have to be an object though. It can be
a topic of conversation picked up by the protagonists. Or it can be a
location. A location can be mentioned in conversation in the previous
chapter and then you can show up there in the next one. It can be an
activity that appears on either side of the divide (with or without
different people engaging in it), or a theme.
Point 4: If you
have no obvious cohesion elements, you're placing a big demand on your
readers. You're saying to them, "Trust me, this is relevant." And in
fact they'll probably go with you up to a certain point... but they will
be actively searching for cohesion elements. In Dragon in Chains
by Daniel Fox, he achieves a very dreamy sense of the entire story
by not connecting all the pieces directly, but by making sure to drop
cohesion elements when you're looking for them (sometimes two or three
paragraphs into the scene, and you'll have this "Aha!" moment). It's
very effective, but it's also risky and I could imagine some readers
feeling confused at different points.
When you're working on a
novel, keep your eye out for these cohesion elements. Try to use them
consciously to bind the story together and keep up a sense of drive. Be
aware that tiny things can make the difference between your readers
taking a running step between chapters, taking a slow step, taking a
long floating leap, or floating right off the page and out of your book
It's something to think about.