In order to draw in a reader, the author needs to create an emotional connection between the reader and the story. That’s one of the most important, and perhaps obvious, writing facts I know. But I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. I kept thinking that that emotional connection is brought in by creating unique characters or interesting plots. (I’ll let you be the judge if I’ve actually been successful in doing that…)
While the characters and plot are certainly important and boring characters or predictable plots can kill a story, I could argue that they might not be the most import devices when it comes to creating that emotional draw.
I realized what that element is while watching an old episode of Star Trek: Voyager (of all things) on Netflix the other day. The episode I was watching had a fairly lame storyline, but all I could think of was how everything happening seemed so…important.
And that was when I figured out the difference between good writing and great writing.
Good writing has the characters and storyline you care about, but great writing also has a sense of urgency to it. I’m not talking about that “what’s at stake?” question your English teachers always made you answer. I’m talking about that feeling you get when you’re pulled into a great book or movie. That feeling that says, “Oh shit, they’re gonna die!” and keeps you at the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next and if your heroes will be able to overcome the obstacles thrown at them.
When the writing is great, it doesn’t even necessarily matter what that obstacle is or what’s “at stake”. If the author makes the obstacle seem important to the reader, then the reader makes that emotional connection and keeps reading. It doesn’t matter how interesting the characters are if they’re not doing anything important.
And if the author can take that important goal and make the reader think that the protagonist might not achieve it, then he has created that sense of urgency to bring in the reader and take the story from good to great.