If everything is perfect in paradise, why would your reader read on? Something horrible needs to happen. Clara gets her dream job, but on her first day she discover she’s unwittingly become part of a secret government programme that requires her to develop an aggressive form of cancer or her boss turn out to be worse than Stalin or she has colleagues who hate her or her boyfriend threatens to break up with her if she takes the job. A good story is anything but smooth sailing.
2. Huge stakes
What happens if the conflict isn’t resolved? If it doesn’t matter either way, you have a story that doesn’t matter. If Clara doesn’t excel at her job despite all her obstacles, Canada will invade the US with the most modern virus spreading robot rabbits. Some horrible threat needs to be looming right round the corner. Why would the reader care if the conflict gets resolved or not if nothing depends on it?
3. Evolving characters
You have to put your characters through their worst nightmare, but if all through their harrowing experiences they stay the same person, then who cares? Your characters need to be transformed by what they live through, for better or for worse…
4. Characters you can root for
Your characters need to be likeable. Even your villains need to have some redeeming qualities, or at least some plausible reason for being so fucked up. They also need to be easy to relate to. A 100 percent perfect superhero is no fun. He or she needs at least one humanizing flaw.
5. The reader gets info, but needs to create the story in his head while it’s developing. Make the reader work. But not too much.
The reader likes piecing things together. Don’t shove all information down the reader’s throat. Let the reader guess what might happen next.
6. Limit the randomness
On top of all this your genre needs to be consistent. Your reader needs to know what kind of universe he’s entered. If half way through Braveheart aliens would land who start attacking the English with poisonous worms, you’d stop watching. The universe of your story needs to make sense.
And your characters don’t suddenly wake up with a thousand times more courage than the day before, just for no reason.
And please, don’t rely on a Deus Ex Machina. Don’t let your conflict be resolved by some totally unexpected event or external force.
7. It helps if you have brilliant style, but Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight prove that you don’t need an amazing writing style, if all the other elements are in place, even if only in a cartoonesque way
You don’t need to be James Joyce to grip the reader by the balls. The six previous elements are far more important than style or any big ideas. If you want to sell a lot and don’t care about any Nobel prize you can write in the simplest way possibe with the least variation in word choice. As long as you get all the rest right.
Books like Fifty shades of grey are actually worth reading, as they show what grips a reader, even if they are clumsily executed.