One: They Want Somebody to Love!I read lots of gripes about female protagonists who came across as demanding, weak-kneed nellies who could never be satisfied and who asked the impossible of their male counterparts. And then there are the love interests who seem to have nothing else to live for than pleasing the woman. I know I’m writing fiction, but geez! Readers want fully rounded, believable people to love and hate and root for and root against. Even sidekicks and walk-ons need to be believable and interesting. Write every minor character as if he/she thinks the entire book is about her/him (I stole that from someone, but I like it.) Readers want characters they can identify with.
Two: They Want Something NewIn my humble opinion, one reason the Romance genre gets a bad rap is the use of formulaic plots imposed by some publishers. Readers want to be surprised and awed and gobsmacked. They want to read something that makes them say, “Holy sh*t” more than once. They want unique voices and quirky characters and nontraditional experiences. The good thing is that every one of us has a unique voice—no one sees the world exactly the way I do or the way you do. So if we are true to ourselves, we can’t help but write in some surprises that make our readers look at the world a little differently.
Three: They Want Something to Laugh At.Readers crave a laugh, a giggle, a snicker to get them through the day, the week, the winter. The only way to test humor is to take your show on the road. Sometimes, you’ll hear nothing but crickets. As in stand-up comedy, it’s all in the timing. And it takes practice. My best advice about adding humor is to read humor. Read lots of it. Read until your sides ache from laughing. Even then, there’s no guarantee you will be able to reproduce it—in fact, writing humor is one of the hardest things in the world to do. You have to get serious if you want to write humor.
Four: They Want a Plot that Moves!Alas, readers (and my) attention spans are limited to the 150—now 280 characters of a Tweet. You have a bit more leeway in your novel, but a good rule of thumb is to treat each paragraph like a featured excerpt and each chapter like flash fiction. One of the best exercises I ever engaged in was a thing called Friday Fictioneers. Our glorious leader posted an image on Wednesday and it was the mission of every member of the group to post a 100 word or less story about the image by COB on Friday. Not a reflection or an image—a story with a beginning, middle and end. I learned so much about pacing and brevity from that silly little practice. Make every sentence do double duty and leave them breathless at the end of every chapter.
Five: They Want All the Loose Ends Tied in a Bow.Don’t leave me hanging. I’ve been writing a series—a real series that involves the same story over three books. Naturally, books 1 and 2 end with some things left unresolved because the chilling conclusion to ALL THINGS is in Book 3. Turns out some readers hate that. I personally love it because books like that tend to be complex and twisted, but some see it as a ploy to sell more books.
Well. . . .yeah.
But I’ve learned you better throw them bones in every segment of the series and you better end the whole shebang with a big bang. If the book is a standalone—the bow needs to be fluffed and carefully knotted with all things revealed at the end. I hate nothing much more than wondering whatever happened to the semi-conscious kitten the protagonist rescued from a slobbering alien menace in chapter 2. I mean, the world may be safe, but is that kitty okay?