Every story has different requirements. Some don’t need much character development. Others don’t need tight plots. But for your story to be the most engaging and compelling it can be, it should comprise these basic narrative elements.
1. Character Reader-Character connection
Characters are the reader’s entry point and anchor in the story: what hooks them and what has them sticking around. If all your characters are as bland as unsalted pasta, your readers will not be engaged by your story. They have to have some degree of interest in at least one of your characters. Whether this interest is deep affection or fascinated hatred is up to you. Whether your most compelling character is your protagonist, his sidekick or the antagonist is up to you. The point is, you must have at least one character that the reader will want to read a story about (preferably many more!). Why would anyone want to read a story about people they’re not interested in?
2. Conflict Something to read about
Characters can have amazing, intriguing personalities, but these will mean nothing if you don’t give them something to do. Generally, a plot is either active or reactive, determined by who makes the first move. Basically, either your character sets a goal and spends the story following it, or the antagonist inconveniences the protag and the protag has to react. Either way, stories involve characters progressing through the story, not standing still or moving sideways.
3. Tension Things that keep the story interesting
Whether the plot is active or reactive, eventually your protagonist has a goal, right? If he dives toward that goal full steam ahead and nothing stands in his way, your reader is going to get bored with how easy things are. You need obstacles to hinder your characters’ success. Deepen the external conflict. Add internal conflict. Add interpersonal conflict.
4. Motivation and stakes Whys and So Whats
Given that it’s a fantasy world and not real life, your reader cares much less about your characters’ problems than your characters do. So, if your characters don’t care … I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.
There needs to be something significant for your protagonist to lose or gain by overcoming the central conflict in the story, or the reader will be asking why they’re even reading this story and why the characters are bothering to put in so much effort. Further, there needs to be a reason that these stakes matter or the reader will be asking so what? What’s the worst that could happen? Your characters need to be motivated or the reader won’t get behind them.
Does your story have these 4 ingredients?