In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,
Today’s publishing marketplace is tough. Not all writers who set out to publish will see their dreams come true. And even if they do publish, readers will not automatically flock to your writing without good reason. The only thing a reader wants, at the end of the day, is to care about a character and a story. That’s it, that’s all. If you let them down here, they will not return to your pages.
The one thing a reader wants is simple.
A reader wants a character and a story to care about. That’s it.
A character. And a story. To care about.
Sure, there are other factors that will keep a reader flipping through the pages all the way until the end.
Big surprises. High stakes. Constant tension. A good mix of dialogue and description.
But a compelling novel especially comes to down to that one thing: a character and story to care about, deeply and completely.
I don’t know about you, but if I don’t care about both of those elements, I struggle continuing on with a novel I’m reading.
Especially when it comes to character. I don’t even need an extraordinary story if the characters mean something to me.
I just adored every minute of the third season of Stranger Things, and something that hit me by the end of the first episode was that I love the characters on the show so much that I’d still enjoy the show if nothing extraordinary happened.
If there were no monsters. If there were no big stakes.
If all the show did was explore those characters’ lives, I would still want to be there for every minute of it.
Such is the case with the best fiction.
You want your characters to be so compelling that very little could happen in the story, and you would still go along for the ride.
So when you do have a lot happen throughout the narrative, when you throw endless surprises and twists at the reader, when there’s a major death nobody sees coming, when an ending reveals something about a character that changes your entire perspective on the book…. your reader will absolutely love you for it.
Mary Kole is right: the publishing marketplace is tough. There are lots of reasons for an editor to say no to your novel.
What you want to do is write a story and characters that nobody will want to say no to.
That no readers will ever be able to put down… even if they try!
All a reader wants at the end of the day is to care about a story and a character.
If you can master that part of novel writing, there’s no telling how much success you’ll be able to achieve.