A story is most powerful and memorable when tethered to an emotional reaction. People become emotional when something negative happens to someone they care about. That’s why you will never forget traumatic events involving close family members, whereas a story about an acquaintance from years ago may easily slip your mind. Likewise, you will struggle to remember anything from a history test you studied for twenty years ago. With no emotional connection to those events, they did not get stored as lasting memories.
In fiction, to create a memorable story you must create characters that readers care about. There are myriad ways to do this, but it must be done. If you don’t make readers care about your characters, then the plot will be like history homework. Some may read through the text to the end, but they will completely forget about the content thereafter. To have a lasting impact, a story needs to spur an emotional reaction so that readers never forget it.
Character must tie to plot and plot to character. The two drive each other. When either plot or character is lacking, readers are left disappointed. Story is the symbiosis of plot and character. Simply telling somebody that your loved one died may incur momentary pity, but it will not create a lasting emotional memory for them. But if you tell them how the person died and why they meant so much to you—i.e. develop a plot around a character—then others will share your emotion around the story you tell them.
Stories are essentially the sharing of emotion—in many forms: love, fear, wonder, awe, melancholy, etc. Writers transfer their consciousness—their emotions, feelings, and ideas—to readers. That’s how ideas are best delivered to others—with a powerful emotion (as opposed to a dry informational essay). Story adds emotion to ideas through plot and character.
To create an impactful story, start with an idea, build a plot around a character, then sprinkle in emotion (and some mystery). Or use SPICE (Story = Plot + Idea + Character + Emotion)