I receive a lot of manuscripts from new writers. I send them out to book clubs and often read them myself. However, sometimes it's difficult to read beyond a few pages. The story becomes simply a collection of words and I no longer care what happens in the rest of the manuscript.
The main part of writing any story is making the reader care. You have to make us want to turn the next page. Grab our attention so that we don't notice that our supper is burning or that we have missed our stop on the train.

Let's start with plot:
1. "Kill you darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribblers heart, kill your darlings." So says the master of engaging plot, Stephen King. And he is so right. New writers sometimes grow so fond of the characters they have created that they wrap them in blankets and carry them through the plot. Preserving them for what? The next book? Trust me, unless they go through the tunnel of hell there will be no other book.
Don't be afraid to push your character overboard. We don't read novels for safety, we read them to escape our lives and enter another that is so much more exciting.
2. Have multiple layers in your plot. No one wants to read John lost Jane, John found Jane. We want to read that John lost Jane because he liked Sally; but Sally owed a debt to Jane because when they were at school Jane's parents took Sally in when her parents died; in the meantime, Jane has met Harry; he's bereaved but finds her funny and uplifting, especially since his wife died; John goes back to find Jane; but Jane is selling all her goods to travel the world with Harry.
3. Challenge your characters. The reluctant hero is a firm fixture in Greek mythology and that's because we understand the hesitancy of being called to do something greater than we have ever done before. We fear stepping outside our field of experience. We understand why the character initially says 'no.' But as a stronger case grows, conflict builds, the decision is removed, the hero takes the call to action and our story moves forward.
4. When a character's lifestyle changes it should be transformed. Nothing familiar should be left - domain, setting, friends, life philosophy. Challenge your character to survive.
5. A betrayal or loss has to be total. When the character's friend nips in to take an expected promotion, there can be no going back and saying, "Oh, I know you didn't mean it." They are enemies from here on. Keep your character strong.
6. Know where you are going. No one likes to take a journey and end up back where they started. The same with a novel - move your characters forward in life, either with what they have learned, their status, their geography. We, the reader, expect the ground to move beneath our feet.
7. Supporting characters need momentum too - whether they slow down or speed up the main journey, they need purpose.
Posts on character, setting and opening pages will follow.