I’ve been reading Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling. Aspiring writers might want to read the book in full, but here’s some ideas I found interesting:
Stories are about change. In other words: something happens. The best stories gradually transform a reader’s understanding of what is happening, as the mystery slowly unfolds, even to the last page. Human brains have evolved to notice change, and so people are naturally curious when they encounter something new. Where change is happening, the brain is likely to pay attention.
It’s not just you against the world, but you against yourself. Each of us has a story, and the most interesting stories are about people. Each one of us is flawed, and it’s difficult to see your own flaws. Though the premise of a story may revolve around some external event – a murder that must be solved, a dragon that must be defeated – in the best stories these external circumstances force the hero to confront their own flaws and perhaps change themselves for the better.
To truly describe someone is to describe their flaws. So make your characters flawed and interesting!
“The lesson of story is that we have no idea how wrong we are.” By telling stories of flawed heroes, writers remind us that none of us are perfect. We’re all trapped inside our own skulls, and perhaps it will take a catastrophe to jolt you into a new way of thinking. Or if no calamity is forthcoming, pick up a good book and get outside your own head that way.