Paula asks if our stories have 'zest'
There are two main dictionary definitions of zest: Flavor or piquancy, and interest or excitement.
I would suggest that our stories need to include both.
The flavor or piquancy can often come through the setting/location of our stories. We can build in a ‘feel’ for the location, without necessarily going into lengthy descriptions. In cookery, this flavor comes from the outer skin of a citrus fruit which is grated and added in small quantities to dishes. In the same way, we can add that flavor to our stories, often with a few well-chosen words to describe a setting. In ‘Irish Inheritance’, I rarely used more than one sentence to describe either the scenery or the town or the view from Mist Na Mara House etc, but many of the reviewers commented about my ‘wonderful’ descriptions of Ireland. Somehow (and I’m not really sure how!) I managed to convey the ‘flavor’ of Ireland. My old English teacher would be proud of me—or maybe she wouldn’t, because I used to hate having to write ‘descriptive essays’ for her on topics like ‘A Summer Meadow' or ‘An Angry Sea’. Maybe that’s why I now keep my descriptions to a minimum! It’s also, I think, because I don’t like reading lengthy descriptions and I've heard other people saying the same thing. The trick seems to be to add enough ‘zest’ to allow a reader to imagine a scene.
Zest in the sense of interest and excitement comes from the pacing of a story. Again, that means no lengthy descriptions, and definitely no long episodes/conversations/whatever which slow the story down without adding anything significant to the plot or the characters. I am always delighted when one of my readers says, or a reviewer writes, ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Once you have captured readers' interest in the plot and engaged them with the characters, they will carry on reading. Oh, and a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter helps too. If you have captured their imagination and interest, they’ll keep turning the pages—even when it is long past their bedtime!