Many of us have read subtle, well-wrought stories in which a character's most secret soul is illuminated -- and yet (yawn) nothing really happens. The writer tried too hard to Make the Reader Care.Read the whole thing (and if the Journal's Web site wants you to subscribe, remember that Google is your friend). Avery asserts "we are hard-wired to respond to the tug of dramatic structure" and that the best way to hook readers is to give characters strong desires, then complicate them. And you know what? That sounds about right to me. Though we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, a little honest introspection will reveal a conflicting hive of yearnings buzzing deep inside us all. If that can't provoke drama, what can?
There are also pyrotechnically masterful stories in which cars explode and the world ends -- and yet (ho-hum) nobody cares. The writer tried too hard to Make Something Happen.
To avoid both problems, I've found it helpful to ask three questions: What does my character want? What keeps my character from getting what he or she wants? Does my character get what he or she wants in the end or not?
(Picture: CC 2010 by artolog)