When writing a story, it helps to write as if you are experiencing what is going on in the story yourself. In other words, you step into the character’s shoes. This is what the reader has to do in order to get into the story, a phenomenon known as narrative transport, a term coined by Melanie Green. It has been posited that this explains the persuasive effect of a story, but I would say it is critical to getting and keeping the attention of the reader Green’s theory was that when people get absorbed in a story, they stop paying attention to anything else.
To gain the attention, you have to hook the reader right up front. In a screenplay this would happen within the first ten minutes of the film. Then of course , you continue to keep them hooked with escalating conflict and tension. As the writer you want to be writing from a firsthand perspective, as if you are experience what the characters do, what things look and sound like. This will enable you to write in such a way that the reader will also feel as if they are there experiencing the story’s action in real time.
Conflict is the engine that drives the story holds the action together. People are transported firstly through the emotion of empathy. This is what Aristotle wrote in so timelessly in Poetics. While he was writing about tragedy, the two emotions that are experienced are pity and fear. Empathy or pity causes us to care about what happens to the character and fear keeps us locked in, wondering what will happen next. As Jerome Bruner suggested in Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, where he asked the question what makes great stories reverberate within our minds. One clue he offers was the concept of identification; we identify either consciously or unconsciously with the characters.
At the end of the day what makes a story good is intrigue and suspense. That is what sells. The story must make us want to know more and therefore to keep turning the pages in our quest for meaning. Stories are explorations of intention, the consequences and conflicts that unfold from those intentions. All of this is geared towards a quest to construct and make meaning. Stories are meaning making experiences. Ultimately it must be a story: who is the protagonist, what do they want, and what’s stopping them. All of this must be unfolded in a coherent narrative, where the ending makes sense in terms of how it began… That’s why we love story.