(Something we all want to know - is there ever such a thing as too much bacon?)Stories are like a canned good that no longer has the label. Everyone wants to know what's inside, as well as if they'll like it. The task for writers is to figure out how to make the essence of the story something the reader will want. In order to do that, writers need to ask themselves several questions:
1. Why does this story need to be told?
There can be lots of reasons for this. Maybe there's a dearth of zombie love stories on the market, and your research has shown that people are looking for that. Maybe something timely in the news has everyone talking, and your story advances the societal narrative. Or maybe you've just been dying to tell this story for years and you'll burst unless you do. Whatever the reason, it needs to be something compelling. A "just because" isn't going to cut it if you want the reader to understand the passion behind what you're saying.
2. Is it the character or the plot that's most important?
Every good story, of course, has elements of both plot and character. No one would read a story about Bobby, the 49 year old used car salesman, unless Bobby was doing something exciting, just as they wouldn't read about this year's new yoga session unless someone in the story had a reason to be there. However, every book is going to push one element over the other, even if that push is only slight. As the writer, you have to decide which is higher in priority.
3. How can you draw in the reader?
Most TV shows are boring because we all know that the main characters are going to be safe in the end. However, one of the things I like about The Walking Dead is the unpredictability of it. For Sophia to become a walker or Lori to die in childbirth was something I never expected, and it made me say, "Holy shit! What else is going to happen?" That's the kind of tension you need to develop if you want your reader to be reeled in.
4. Why should the reader care about your character?
Most people don't really care if the person next to them lives or dies. Sure, they might care in a "it's right to love your fellow man" kind of way, but they really won't notice if that person is gone. It's up to writers to make the reader give a shit about the people in the story. Did the main character go through a grave injustice that would turn any of us against society? Did that widow lose her husband and try to move on with another man, only to find out her "dead" husband is still alive? Is a child who grew up being beaten and abused going to find a way to get past that in her adult life? One of the biggest tasks is to get the reader to relate to the character, to see the flaws in each character that might be present in themselves, as well as a reason to root for that person.
5. What is original about your idea?
I swear that if I see another book on the shelf about some angst riddled teen vampire and his or her love interest, I'm going to vomit. I've heard it said that there are no new ideas, but that doesn't mean everything has to be just a rehash of what was in stores only two months ago. I like that World War Z looked at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and what we were doing as nations to fight it instead of just dropping us off months or years after it had already happened. 11/22/63 took a unique look at the Grandfather Paradox and made it something we hadn't seen before. The key to these books' success was that they introduced something no one had seen before. They fired the imagination and let us escape into something original for a while. If you, as a writer, can do the same, your career may have potential.
These are the main questions I try to answer while I'm writing a book. What are yours?