OK, so let’s assume that you master the basic rules of spelling and grammar, and you’ve even managed to work out the use of active voice in your story. Is it compelling yet?

Sadly, no.

Look at your story. Now look at mine. Now back to yours. Now back to mine. Sadly yours is not mine. But it could read like mine if you knew how to make it compelling…

Some “experts” will say that the way to make a story compelling is to ensure it has the following elements:
1. Great character development.
2. Relatable culture and social interaction.
3. A believable and interesting world.
4. Economic interaction and consequences

Others give similar if slightly different lists. And of course they are usually all right. Great compelling stories usually have all of these things. But lots of totally boring and uninteresting stories do too.

Like mine.

I know my story has all these elements because I worked hard to make them all. My main characters and a dozen or so supporting characters have been mapped out, given motivations, backstories, quirks, ambitions, physical appearance, etc. And they evolve over time due to the circumstances of the story. That’s part of the whole point of telling or reading a story, is to see how the characters evolve. I’ve detailed out the setting to include countries, mountain ranges, rivers, seas, forests, towns…. I’ve got friggin’ MAPS of the world. I can tell you exactly how far it is from point A to point B, and show you the path you’d have to take to get there.

I have done my best to create completely different cultures for different areas of the story and have done quite a bit of research to get a feel for those cultures. (Yes, I learned how to make stone arrowheads, spearheads and knives because it was important to my story for me to have a feel for the process.) My goal is to make the cultural elements of the story PALPABLE.

OK, I’ve got some work to go on the economies of the world. I should have given that more thought. I couldn’t tell you right now what the main imports and exports of the largest city in the story are… I definitely should know that… But still….

But I still don’t feel my story is “compelling.”

One blog I visited said a story is “compelling” if the reader identified with the protagonist, the event which triggered the protagonist’s difficulties in the story, and the way the protagonist dealt with and (hopefully) resolved those difficulties.

Again, yeah, a good, “compelling” story will have that. But having that doesn’t MAKE your story compelling…

So I have fallen back on what I personally found compelling about my most favorite books. And I’ve concluded that the answer is different for each of the books.

My favorite things about Tolkien’s writing are not the same as my favorite things about Steinbeck’s or Salinger’s.

The one thing I can say is that when I read those stories, I CARED about the people and the world the story was about. So my current take on “how do you make a story compelling” has evolved into “How do you make the reader CARE about the characters and the cultures?”

But I feel no closer to having the answer than I did when I started.