Within a story the plot will go in various directions and surprises and revelations will occur. But in between all that people will move around and interact, and that’s where writers can come undone. Informing readers of ordinary activities in ordinary ways is going to slide through their heads without really registering. Even if a story is true, if the events are described accurately and with authentic touches, that won’t necessarily make it interesting.
Giving a character goal, even a simple one like making a coffee, and then showing them achieving that goal, is dull. But some writers think if they show the process in great detail it implants meaning and resonance to the mundane. And sometimes it does (but not automatically — you have to know what you’re doing and what effect it will have on the reader). If I think I know what’s going on, and it turns out it’s exactly what I thought, whether it was a big plot twist or some tiny incidental moment, it will deaden my curiosity. Even if there’s plenty of exciting things to come, I will detach from the story, skim or skip bits or give up altogether, because my desire to know what happens next isn’t being stimulated. And dammit, it’s the writer's job to stimulate me.
The thing that keeps readers engaged with a story is the unexpected. The word ‘unexpected’ can imply something extraordinarily spectacular, but that’s just going from one extreme to another. Telling me a character is having chicken for dinner is mundane. Telling me he’s having roast hippo is absurd. If the wife say’s “We’re having chicken tonight” and the husband comes home to find shepherd’s pie, that’s enough to draw the reader’s interest.
All you need is to not go directly from A to B. You might start at A and your destination may well be B, but how you traverse between them makes all the difference.
If you concentrate too much on getting information across and not enough on how you are communicating it, the writing can seem pedestrian. If people ask each other normal every day things, even though that’s a part of real life, it can read as plodding. Real can very easily become dull.
Too often in stories by aspiring authors, the characters are parked in neutral, just ‘a person’ waiting for events to give their life meaning. They see things in a very straightforward manner. They walk out of their house and if they feel happy, they smell the flowers and whistle. They do what you would expect to convey what the writer means in the most direct manner, and it’s boring to read. The unexpected can lift them out of that. If a man walks out of his house feeling happy and sees a glorious dog turd glistening in the sunshine, it’s going to make the reader pay attention.
In order to get noticed you have to produce something different. That doesn’t mean something completely original no one has ever seen before, just not what they were expecting in that specific context. And you know what they were expecting? It was the first thing you thought of when you wrote it. And the second. And probably the third. Throw them all away and keep going.
It’s not easy. If you try to come up with a story from the ground up, your mind will naturally pull you towards the tried and true. Clichés. But it doesn’t require genius to figure out another way, it only requires you keep rewriting, and eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later), when you've exhausted all the obvious avenues, something unexpected will happen.