on Writers Helping Writers:
The Two Pillars of Storytelling
After my first couple years as a fiction editor, I realized that all of my developmental feedback for clients fit into one of two categories. The first is immersion: the quality of a narrative that transports readers to another time and place. The second is emotional draw: that which maintains readers’ interest in a character and thus keeps them turning pages.
Immersion is achieved with scene-based writing, which means a focus on the protagonist’s moment-to-moment experience of setting and conflict. A reader’s sense of immediacy grows out of sensory details, movement, action, and dialogue.
Emotional draw is more complicated. Readers are diverse, and each one brings a slightly different reason for turning the page. But the main components are:
- Trajectory—the momentum of a character struggling toward a goal
- Anticipation—a desire to know what happens next
- Stakes—a looming consequence should the character fail