Blurb writers! Stop writing this blurb: "What he finds could change his life forever." Books are ABOUT change.
— Alice Keezer (@alicetheowl) September 6, 2012
I'm not blaming writers for the back-of-the-book blurbs. The author rarely gets a say in cover art, blurbs, or promotion. My irritation stems from the fact that the essence of a story is so little-known that this blurb works. (If it didn't work, after all, they wouldn't use it.)
The essence of a story is change. The protagonist does have plot happen to him or her, but the whole point of that plot is that it gives that character a new perspective, a new outlook, a new approach. The change isn't always positive, and how obvious or subtle it is can vary significantly. But, it's there. What makes a story a story is that the character changes (or that several of them do).
In Star Wars, Luke goes from a whiny farm kid who wants to see what else is out there to the guy tapping into his newfound abilities to blow up the Death Star. In Harry Potter, just in book one, Harry goes from an orphan neglected by his aunt and uncle to a hero with two close friends and magic within his grasp. I picked those two because they're the ones you're most likely to already be familiar with, but I could've picked any story at random.
Kids' stories, by the way, tend to discard subtlety for a more straightforward approach, which is why they're excellent for illustrating points about storytelling.
There is another important factor to change within a story. It needs to be introduced organically. In other words, the change needs to be logical, gradual, and within your characters' personalities. If you want a character who's a cultish Christian to embrace atheism, you can't convince him by having him talk to one person about how his religion doesn't have all the answers. If you want your character who was viciously attacked by a dog when she was a child to adopt a mistreated pit bull, you'll need more to happen than just making her walk into a shelter for no good reason. In Nim's Island, the greatest part of Alex's struggle was getting out her front door, but just that step didn't give her the bravery she needed. The rest came gradually. In all stories, you need to lay the groundwork for that change before it can happen.
A story with a consistent and believable plot is all well and good, but, if nothing changes for your protagonist, it's not a story. Be aware of that change, accentuate and highlight it throughout your story, and you'll find you have a much stronger narrative.