I'm posting this a few days early. Next week I'm unplugging myself from the world to concentrate on writing. With any luck, I'll get some work done. Or I'll figure out new ways to play with my pen. I'll let you know.
Meantime, here's the question of the week:
First and absolutely most important, you need a good storyteller. Whether you write in first or third person, your narrator is your connection to your reader. No, more than that--the narrator should take the reader by the hand and lead him or her into and through the story. That means your narrator has to be completely engaging and trustworthy. Readers will not suffer fools much past page 50.
The narrator must be a skilled actor, the kind who could act out a fairy tale you've heard hundreds of times, yet keep you enthralled right up to the inevitable happy-ever-after. Unlike an actor, though, your narrator can't use gestures or facial expressions. Everything relies on language: words and the way they're used. The narrator's voice needs to be unique and command attention. In other words--and I've said this before on this blog--the narrator should NEVER be the author. Even if you're writing in third-person omniscient, that mysterious, godlike, all-seeing narrator ought to be a character with its own perspective and opinions. And hey, a sense of humor never hurts.
Of course, a great storyteller could read a shopping list and keep the audience interested, but will they come back for more?
So, second, you need a story with a beginning, middle and end. You need to say who your characters are, then what happens to them, then how they're changed by what happened.
Say two people meet for dinner and have a conversation. That isn't a story in itself. It shouldn't even be a chapter. BUT, what if the conversation becomes more like a roller coaster ride, with ups and downs, witty banter one moment, argument the next? If this conversation changes each character significantly--in the way they feel about each other, or about their worlds, or in what their next actions will be--THEN you have a story. If the story makes the reader think a little, so much the better.
Now, sure, add great characters and a nifty setting and a completely surprising twists throughout and you've got a great mystery novel. But the necessities are storyteller and story.