Eight Traits of Compelling Stories
1. A Prediction: Knowing that something has been predicted for the future creates tension in the reader or audience. Will the prediction come true or not?
2. Hobson’s Choice: None of the two choices offer a true solution, but we still wonder which one will be chosen.
3. The Bait or Hook: Something unexpected and compelling occurs which holds our undivided attention.
4. The Invisible Influence: There is something or someone influencing events but it/he/she/it remains unknown to us.
5. Unsolved Mystery: In his course on screenwriting, Hal Croasmun mentions that every mystery contains three aspects, of which one or two remain unknown till the end—what happened, who did it, and how did it happen? In trying to discover the answer to one or more of these question, keeps us glued to the story.
6. The Cliffhanger: This is an unexpected end or twist to a scene or chapter. We need to know the answer, so we keep reading or watching.
7. Anticipation Created by Dialogue: Something is mentioned by a character or characters which causes us to anticipate a future event—to worry, or wander about it.
8. Apprehension Caused by Genre: In a tragedy, for example, we have certain expectations about the end of the story. Other genres, such as Noir, also contain expectations about the behaviour of the femme fatale, or the moral health of the protagonist.
Although this list is by no means replete, it is a start to get you thinking.
Including some of the following—a prediction, Hobson’s choice, a bait or hook, an invisible influence, an unsolved mystery, a cliffhanger, anticipatory dialogue, or genre apprehension in your stories will make them more compelling.
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