As far as I can tell, there are no magical writing secrets. There is no magic wand, no set of tricks, no way to flip a switch to instantly create better stories with your keyboard.
There are, however, ways to hone your focus: that is, there are ways to write better, more interesting stories that will captivate an audience.
The three things I look for in my own stories—whether fiction or nonfiction, essay or short story, novel or scribbling on the bathroom wall—are…
Urgency. The first sentence has one job: make the reader want to read the second. Hence, the second sentence must make the reader want to read the third. So forth and so on. If a sentence doesn’t fuel a story’s urgency, it must be cut.
Details. God is in the details. But so is the devil. Details, even minute ones, are incredibly important; they give your story life. Ergo, it’s important to know which details matter and which details are junk. Superfluous details slow down an otherwise interesting story. So what’s a would-be storyteller to do? Cut a detail to see if it takes away from the story or makes it better or more urgent.
Fun or funny. Every good story is either fun or funny (or both). Said another way, a story is fun when it is engaging, when it has a payoff, when it makes you think differently. It’s funny if it elicits emotion, if you laugh, smile, or cry. A good story must make you feel something. Thus, I always ask myself this question: does this story feel alive to me? If it does, then I’m doing my job correctly. If not, then I need to go back to the top.
Afternote: my once-a-year story-writing class begins this Saturday. There are only three seats left. If you you’re interested, you can find more details here.