As an instructor for Long Ridge and judge for the Writer’s Digest fiction competitions, I consistently see a wide range of stories. Most of them are good—or at least have the potential for being good. However, only a few are excellent. My Long Ridge students know that when I make recommendations, it doesn’t mean I don’t like their work. In fact, it’s the opposite. I want them to take their good stories and make them even better.
When people ask me what I consider the single most important thing to work on in fiction, I generally say characterization. Here’s an article I wrote about this subject: Writing Fictional Characters to Hook the Readers.