Romance writers regularly hear the advice to torture your characters because readers don’t want stories where nothing happens. More often I’m finding that the torture is too much, and I’m not referring to horror or suspense stories.
I don’t need, or want to read, stories where things are constantly going wrong: our poor heroine suffers set-backs, adversity, and finally the black moment that is more of a black hole. When there is no longer even a glimmer of hope at that event horizon, I toss the book or give up caring about the characters. Why should I continue reading when the author has said “Nope. No way is there any chance for happiness”?
Just as writers need to avoid the heroine who is TSTL, too stupid to live, what about stories that make the reader think it’s time for our heroine to just roll over and die? The reader is supposed to share in the heroine’s struggle and rejoice with her when she finally overcomes the odds. But are writers more often taking the reader’s soul too far into the abyss of despair? I like a plucky heroine as much as anyone, and I read to escape. Falling into a seemingly bottomless black pit is neither entertaining or engaging for me.
I want to see that glimmer of hope, just a shadow of a doubt that not all is lost. Keep me reading and caring about the characters! I’m taking it as a personal challenge to keep my readers emotionally invested without sending them to depression therapy.