On the side, I read manuscripts that authors have self-published, and I write coverage about how their book may be adapted to film. Generally, these manuscripts are badly written. They are usually riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes because they clearly have not been proofread. More importantly, their stories are poorly executed.
Most of the manuscripts I read have an interesting premise, which has the potential to make for a good story. It’s not hard to think up a concept that might intrigue audiences. Here, I will spontaneously make up some right now. A woolly mammoth gets sucked into a space time portal and gets transported to London in the year 1661. A young kid has to be raised by her uncle who has Asperger’s Syndrome after her parents die in a car crash. A centaur struggles with his sexuality, as he finds himself attracted to both humans and horses.
Admittedly, these aren’t good, but my point is that coming up with a premise doesn’t take much effort. Much more difficult and more important than coming up with an idea for story is the proper execution of that idea. However, if you know what to pay particular attention to, you can write a story that does justice to its premise. In the manuscripts I have read, I find that the main reasons their stories are badly executed are insufficient character development or a plot that is flimsy, slowly paced, or poorly structured.
To adequately develop your characters, particularly your protagonist, you must give them a goal to reach or a major obstacle to overcome. Then you need to make them active in the pursuit of resolving the conflict. It is alarming how few of the manuscripts I read master this necessary component of storytelling. They either do not even establish a single character as the protagonist, or they do not give the character a clear objective, or they do not make the character take any action to reach their objective. Failing to do any of these will usually lead to a very flimsy plot.
To further develop your protagonist and other characters, you need to give them distinguishable traits, habits, perspectives, and backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to get specific. The more detail you assign a character, the more easily the audience can identify with them.
Once you determine your protagonist’s objective, other elements of storytelling will fall into place. The plot should be well paced as long as the protagonist is always actively attempting to reach his goal. The structure will be sound as long as the storyteller establishes a conflict early on, then spends the bulk of the story having the protagonist try to reach his goal, or in other words, resolve the conflict.
Lastly, I would like to note that a writer doesn’t need a highly original or complex premise. In fact, these types of ideas are the ones that often lead to the badly written stories, because they are complicated and unfamiliar. As a writer, your primary focus should be on the successful execution of whatever premise you conceive.