What do readers want?
A touch of DANGER:
Let us not forget UNBRIDLED PASSION:
And, of course, A JOYOUSLY HAPPY ENDING:
Sound a little cliched? There’s a reason for that. It’s been said that there are basically seven stories in the world and they’ve pretty much all been written. Over and over and over again. (These would be: Defeating the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth.) Each of these classic stories is peopled with archetypes. Without getting all literary and in-depth, archetypes are those quintessential characters we recognize the minute we see them. The Mother, the Hunter, the Wanderer, the Mentor, the Shadow, the Reluctant Hero (a favorite in romance), etc. — these all embody certain personality types with very specific behaviors, and readers are able to connect and empathize with these characters right away. Think fairytales and myths, and stories like The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter. Aragorn, Frodo and Harry are reluctant heroes. Wolverine in X-Men is another. Each has a Mentor — Gandalf, Dumbledore, Xavier — each must fight a Shadow, etc.
But archetypes are also where the idea of stereotypes comes from. In writing, archetypes are good; stereotypes are bad (actually, stereotypes are always bad). The trick, always, is in finding a fresh approach to every new story, and to use the archetypes as guides to create original characters while avoiding the cliches of stale old stereotypes. Easy? NO! But don’t let me scare you! The beauty of it is that you really don’t have to be actively aware of any of this, or even know what the seven classic stories or archetypes are to put them to good use. A lot of it is instinctive.
So, OK, what was the question? Oh yeah, what do readers want. As a reader, I want believable, identifiable characters I can relate to (yes, even the villains), whose actions remain true to who they are, yet who are capable of growing (don’t forget that character arc), who set off on extraordinary, action-packed adventures, face danger, discover passion and, in the end, learn that love is the greatest power on earth.
Did I leave anything out?