That sounds like such an easy question but it really isn’t. Everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes. A book I can’t put down might be one you can’t get past page one on. And some days, it depends on why I’m reading. I might be looking for what I call brain candy. Simple. Satisfying. No gut-wrenching scenes, and a happy ending. A feel-good story. Other times, I want a story that gets my heart racing and the adrenaline pumping. A murder mystery, or a war story where there’s murder and mayhem, and the good guys win. (I always want the good guys to win) So, if you want to know what I think makes a good story, here’s the answer.
Number one is relatable characters. I don’t know too many tall blond, athletic, super smart women with endless funds who never trip over their own shadow. I can’t relate to that. I know a whole lot of shorter, slightly plump women who juggle work, kids, husbands and homes. So my ideal character would be more like the second example above. I can see myself in them, and I’ll cheer them on as they try to do whatever it is they need to do to make the story work. When it comes to the man(aka the hero), it’s a different story. I want him to be perfect, and adorable, and do anything he has to to make the heroine happy. Of course, he has to have his own insecurities too. Men are human after all (I think…) But their quirks cannot be things like anger management issues, or a roving eye. I’m fine with a guy who spends too much time playing frisbee with his dog, or one who secretly loves to watch the Princess Bride.
Number two is a believable setting. I realize that sounds odd from someone who writes scifi and fantasy but a plot doesn’t have to be contemporary to be believable. The author just has to be able to get me to invest in their vision of reality. For example, I love the wolf pack in Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Other World series even though I know that there are no actual werewolves in Toronto or New York State. I devoured every book in Patricia Briggs “Mercy Thompson” series even though there are more fae and paranormal creatures in those books than you can count on both hands. The author made the world sound believable and allowed me to think, for just a little while, that it could exist.
The third and most important thing is a plot. Something has to happen. There has to be some reason for the two main characters to come together and there has to be something that makes that hard. Something has to be trying to keep them apart. In the end, they will overcome all obstacles but in order for that to happen, there needs to be obstacles. They can be geographic, emotional, financial; whatever the author dreams up but they need to be there.
Once you have all of these elements in place, you have a good story that I can curl up and immerse myself in. And that is what I try to provide my readers with, a good story that they can curl up with to escape from reality for just a little while.