There is a little known secret in the writing and creative world, which if understood and properly utilized, would take the popularity of your writing to an entirely new level. I'll call that secret "undeserved misfortune," although it could be described using a variety of phrases.
What's interesting about this is many authors don't know why it is a particular piece of writing is successful, so they just throw out some stuff to see if it'll stick.
Yet when you analyze a large number of books, or films for that matter, you'll find one of the key elements making it a success is negative things that happen to people that are no fault of their own. This creates an opportunity for a lot of secondary elements or characters which can be worked in around the reason for that misfortune.
Before we get into fiction, let's look at one of the secrets those promoting non-fiction books have known for some time - specifically in the self-help or inspirational category.
What is done in order to get a reader to relate is tell some of their background story of where they started from, and in many cases, how certain challenges came about. This sets the reader up to be shown what a person did to overcome the challenges they faced. The more the struggles are undeserved, the more the reader can relate to and identify with them, which provides the backdrop for the solutions. The bulk of the remainder of the book will show how the difficulties were resolved.
Without the before and after story and imagery, it's not as effective.
For fiction, it's only different because it's all creatively made up. Yet the effect is still the same, with the exception of the introduction of other elements into the story - such as humor and waiting for a hero to be revealed to help solve the problem.
What makes it work time after time in story after story is the redemption factor. Darth Vader in Star Wars is one of the more well-known characters, but you can easily identify hundreds more if you think about stories that have been highly successful.
Some of the undeserved misfortune can include disease, accidents, a variety of enemies (human or otherwise), or anything else which causes a person pain and struggle they.
I do want to interject here that the misfortune has to be undeserved. Someone that has brought it upon themselves and struggles with it, isn't as attractive to readers.
Think that through for a moment. While we can somewhat identify with someone that causes their own problems and are trying to work them out, it's those that aren't self-destructive or unwise in some way, which readers really identify with. You cheer them on to make it far more than those whose wounds are self-inflicted.
I believe the reason for that is a person, in the end, must save themselves if the cause is their own thinking and actions. Those who aren't the source of the problem, most of the time need someone to help get them out of the situation. This is a powerful attractant and tool to use to get other characters into the story.
There's a lot more to say about this, but the key is to start looking at this as the foundation of your fiction or non-fiction writing. It'll take it to another level and delight readers who want to find out how the misfortune was dealt with or solved.
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