I'm betting your story is off to a good start by now; the plot is rolling along, the setting is coming to life, and your characters sparkle like the unique snowflakes they are. But you feel like there's something missing. The story feels clinical, lifeless. So, what's wrong?
It might be that your story is missing a heart. The bad news: even the coolest concept and the wildest, most original plot twists won't make up for this lack. The good news: you can totally fix it. Writing character emotion is hard, especially if you're a beginner, but like most things, it gets easier with practice. For me, it still takes a few drafts to get it right.
So how do you find your story's heart?
It's usually pretty obvious once you start looking. Your main character is a good place to start. What's at stake for her? Are the stakes personal enough? Say the fate of the world is at stake in your story. Pretty massive stakes, right? Well, that's fine, plot-wise, but that's not where the story's heart is: it should be something that has to do with relationships between characters, like maybe the loss of a loved one, dealing with pregnancy, getting revenge, losing one's job, something relatable. Big emotions like love and hate are great for powering a story. Odds are that the story's emotional core is closely related to your message or theme or the argument the story is trying to make. If you know one of these you're off to a good start.
Sometimes the problem isn't a lack of heart but the way you're (not) conveying it. Does it feel like you're holding the reader at arm's length? The deep point of view technique can be helpful here (More on that later), and sometimes just adding more internal monologue and tapping into the character's stream of consciousness fixes the issue.
But what if you notice that your character is actually pretty bland and is just wandering through the story world so you can showcase your cool ideas? Well, you might consider going back to the drawing board with the character and giving her a secret or a handicap. What's her greatest fear? Can you adjust the story so that she has to face it? Make sure the stakes are big enough and that the decisions the character must make are truly hard, almost impossible. There must be consequences, painful ones; if they aren't devastating, you're not thinking big enough.
Once you discover the story's heart, think of ways to showcase it on a metaphorical level. Maybe tinkering with the setting, adding a recurring simile, or a subtle use of mood and theme could work?
Readers love character emotion. Even if the story doesn't have much else going for it, realistic portrayal of character emotion can make it successful. Why do you think people buy those dollar store romances? We're naturally interested in relationships, and having the protagonist get the girl (or guy) gives us a thrill and a certain feeling of satisfaction on an emotional level. Think of a book you really loved. It probably resonates with you, emotionally speaking.
Find your story's emotional core and remember, it's never too late for a heart transplant.
Oh, and don't forget to do your 350 words today. Once more, with feeling!