I was the only person who knew where the story was going. Anyone else reading it wouldn't have had a clue.
In fact, all my readers would have been asking this:
And it's the same way with stories. Readers need to be able to see where the story is headed. What I was missing in my story was a main goal for the hero--something that he was working towards. Readers need to know what the main character is trying to do, even if they don't know whether or not he will succeed.
Two-sided conflict Every story starts with a problem--something that needs to be fixed if the hero is going to get his happy ending. His goal could simply be getting rid of this problem but it's better to give him a goal that's at least partly unrelated. That way, every time the hero has to make a choice he has two motivations: he wants to escape his problem and he wants to achieve his goal. There's also plenty of room here for dilemmas--those nasty either/or choices where no matter what option the hero picks it's going to be painful.
Switching goals The hero may start out with a goal that changes somewhere in the story. That's because what the hero wants and what the hero thinks he wants are often two different things. Han Solo in Star Wars starts out wanting to save the princess so the rebellion will pay him lots of money, but his goal of making money changes later in the story. That's okay because he's not the main character and his goal doesn't propel the story line. But think of a similar character--Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy. He starts out just wanting to make some money, but by the end of the movie he's risking his life trying to save the galaxy.
Why does this work? It works because the first time we see Peter he's still a kid, he's just lost his mom, and he gets abducted by aliens. Even though his conscious goal is to get money, we know that deep down what he really wants is for old hurts to heal, for friends, and for a place where he belongs. Does he get his conscious goal? Um, no. But he does get his subconscious goal.
That's a pretty good example. Now let's look at a bad example: Disney's Tangled. (Sorry, Disney lovers.)
Tangled is aptly named since its story line is so convoluted it's extremely hard to follow. Why? Because there's a problem with the heroine's main goal. Rapunzel wants to see the floating lanterns. Simple. Definite. But unfortunately, really really boring.
After all, it's not going to be hard or dangerous to go watch some lantern-launching ceremony, right? So to make the movie interesting the movie makers had the characters continuously running from Flynn's enemies. When Rapunzel does get her goal the movie's only half over, so the story has to do a quick change and switch the goal to not going back to the tower where she's been kept a prisoner. By the time you get to the end of the movie you kind of wonder why it took so long to tell such a short story. (Answer: lots of filler chase and action scenes.)
There are two lessons to be learned from this: 1. Give your hero a goal that really matters (and that people can understand someone actually wanting). 2. Don't switch goals half way through the story.
But I guess the most important thing is to actually have a goal. Give readers a good reason to step out on that road.