By Shawn Coyne
Published: June 14, 2013
Above all else, writers want to be read.
Editors and publishers, and especially readers, require just one quality in a writer’s work to make this dream come true. When a work has Narrative Drive, clichés like “I couldn’t stop turning the pages” and “it reads like a bat out of Hell” come out of the mouths of even the most eloquent of speakers.
Narrative drive is that quality that keeps readers riveted. It is the lightening in a bottle that creates great fortunes. If your work has none…fuhgetaboutit.
It’s an obvious quality too, easy to wrap your mind around. So simple it seems that many amateurs are convinced that they could do what major commercial writers like James Patterson or Nora Roberts or John Grisham or Gillian Flynn or Nicolas Sparks do.
Hey, I’m no Thomas Mann, but I could write up one of those potboilers over a couple of weekends…
It’s true that not one of the aforementioned writers is in the running for a Nobel Prize in Literature, but I promise you they have the gift that many of those who are in the running wish they had. They compel us normal folks without a PhD in Literature to give them hour after hour of our very valuable attention. And isn’t attention what we all really desire in our heart of hearts?
The truth is that teaching someone how to imbue work with Narrative Drive is no day at the beach…perhaps it’s even impossible.
Trying to do so is a bit like telling someone where Picasso bought his paint, how tight he liked his canvass to be stretched, what time of day he found most productive, the kind of brushes he used, and his overarching aesthetic philosophy and then expecting the student to create Le Moulin de la Galette.
But to think that Picasso didn’t know his paint, canvass, time, brushes and philosophy deep within his cells before he painted Guernica though is also ridiculous. He didn’t knock out masterpieces without first mastering the form of his craft.
Alas, form is not a recipe. But without a comprehensive understanding of form, the wannabe artist will futz and fumble. If he never learns the form of his chosen art, he will never get close to lasting creation.
The form of Narrative Drive—its component parts—is mystery, suspense, and dramatic irony.
Posted in What It Takes
Mac McCallister is our "Agora master"—the key writer for the Agora blog. This list reflects works written by Mac, as well as works he recommends to others for reading.
I know I've left out some great works on this list in particular. Consider it a work in progress, always being updated. If there's a specific title that you'd suggest adding, let me know.
Curious about Alexander? Not sure whether to start with the ancient texts or with modern biographies? My vote is for the old school, then head over to the boatload of excellent and very readable contemporary writings about Alexander.
Penguin Classics and the Loeb Classical Library (which gives the text in Greek on one page and in English on the facing) are the indispensable sources. Pick any and you can't go wrong. But here are the must-reads.
These are just a few of the titles that I've turned to in the past, from authors whose work I admire.
This is the ultimate short list. Hard to decide, but these two are starting points.
The title for this list says it all—golf.
Another short list—big on motivation.