Canned warning about formulas goes here. But, seriously, don’t most compelling classic stories boil down to something like this? Hero, who has suffered all his or her (often parentless) life, faces seemingless insurmountable obstacles, including at least one persistently present powerful villain, but ultimately gets by with pluck (not just luck), stick-to-it-iveness and a little help from friends — and maybe some special power.
Seriously. Harry Potter. Batman. Dorothy. Hobbits. Matilda. Spider-Man. Cinderella.
(Tragedy’s the twist where he’s flawed or cursed, or maybe life itself is, and he dies: Ahab. Hamlet.)
Suffering builds suspense. Reader has to not only keep wondering what will happen, but has to care.
More obligatory caveats about formulas go here … orignality … good writing … likeability … well-defined characters with deep motivations … subtext and subplots … moral dilemmas … etc.
(Further obligatory qualification: OK, the parts here are tried and true … maybe my summation’s a bit different? Or maybe I’m just thinking aloud.)
Anyway, moral of the story for me: May have to upgrade the villains and threats in my first novel. If not, my next. Illustration: A character from my children’s sci-fi novel.