I have been watching a lot of Chinese period dramas. Most of them dig into Chinese mythology and I absolutely love them. Some are better than others, but I was lucky enough to watch three excellent ones in a row. I’ve been thinking about what makes them so addictive and if I could use that “formula” in my own romances. These are a few things they all seem to do and that hook the audience very effectively.
- They all (or most of them) start with a light mood–the main characters may be children or maybe they are very happy and free of worries. This sets the audience into a sense of security and true zen. In other words put your audience (readers) at ease before you hit them over the head with something they didn’t expect.
- They draw in the audience by offering lavish and yet, simple settings with clean, ethereal lines. In a book this could translate to rich vivid descriptions that don’t overwhelm but call to all senses.
- They make their main characters suffer and then reward them with a happy ending. Translation, keep your readers guessing, and maybe even crying a bit, as long as you give them a satisfying end.
- Finally, make the audience wait until the last possible minute before revealing the happy ending. In one of my favorite shows the audience is led to believe, literally until the last thirty seconds of the series, that the main characters are going to live a very lonely, sad life. Just when the audience has accepted this terrible fate, something happens that totally changes everything–in a good way.
- And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have beautiful (inside and out) likable people as the main characters. There is definitely an emphasis on kind characters, people who are unselfish and do good things for others without expecting anything in return. There is always an underdog who wins at the end.
Can I use this formula for my books? I think I already do, probably the reason I am so attracted to these shows. I always have some kind of rebel or outcast who comes victorious in the end. I also tend to make my characters suffer one way or another, before they achieve emotional nirvana. And my settings–especially those in my fantasy books–are, I hope, described in a vivid, sensory way that makes readers feel they are side by side with my characters and not looking in from the outside.
So readers, a question for you; what makes a story that extra special for you (in any genre)? What makes you turn the pages without any wish to stop?