The first story suffers from lack of structure (in the stories I've been reading). All of the pacing is the same, or the pacing is working against the natural highlights of the story. A climactic scene, for example, is sometimes hidden away or summarized. A less significant detail is oddly magnified, calling more attention to itself than it probably should.
The second story, while lacking in content, will initially feel like it works because the structure has been manipulated in such a way that certain highlights exist, even if those highlights don't have any substance behind them.
What I've decided is that a solid structure, regardless of content, is sufficient in making the reader feel like they've been taken on some sort of journey. It can take a reader on an experiential roller coaster ride, including ups and downs, even if the actual writing isn't saying anything of meaning.
Remember Mad Libs?
Once there was a ___________.
But the _________ was _________.
It wanted ___________.
For many years the ___________ __________, but one rainy day, a _______________ arrived and ________________.
The ______________ thought that surely all hope was lost.
Then, suddenly, _____________________________!
Even though the stories that came from our random collections of nouns and adverbs and adjectives and verbs were almost always nonsensical, we felt like we had heard a complete story. I think that goes back to the solidity of structure and pacing that go to create shape.
Do you focus on story shape in your work? Has reworking the shape of a story given it more emotional impact?