There is always a central conflict no matter what the genre. The protagonist is faced with a dilemma, whether it be finding love, fighting off monsters, or finding the solution to a nagging problem. It can be as simple as growing up. Some of us tend to think of our writing as mere entertainment, others want to teach, and others want to solve a moral issue that plagues them. But to really engage your audience you have to put yourself into the narrative.
To tell a story well there has to be passion and fire. If these two ingredients are missing there is no reason to read. I've had people criticize my writing by saying, 'that sentence sounds like the author speaking,'...well, it is the author speaking since part of every character is part of me, even the black-hearted ones. I can't leave what I believe out of the story. And why should I? My fire is what imbues the narrative with energy. Without that energy the writing is flat and dull. Even if a story takes place in some alien planet or time in the future, the same issues come up over and over: thwarted love, distrust, deep moral issues that make the reader think. I'm not saying to beat your reader over the head with your political stance or try and solve the world's shortcomings in prose. It needs to be done subtly and woven carefully so it doesn't become jarring. But it has to be there.
When I wrote my first book I worried about showing who I was. We all talk about how this character or that character isn't us. Well, where the hell did they come from? We need to take ownership of what we write. Do our stories come from our hearts or do they come from our minds? Having a little of both strikes a good balance, in my opinion.
Looking at these things is a way to keep yourself on track. How many times have you suddenly realized that what you're writing doesn't feel right? You got off track and to get on again you must go back and discover where you left yourself. Because if you aren't in the narrative it isn't going where it's supposed to go.
Thanks for reading and I always love to hear your opinions!