The story is the thing, of course - it takes up threads of the human condition readers recognise: those they have experienced, those they would like to, and those they hope will never happen to them. The story unfolds in my novels to reveal obstacles and incidents that require solutions.
And it's solutions that people always seek - we all need at least one solution a day for something that intrigues, baffles, annoys, defeats or requires us to pit our resources against 'the world'. An easy solution for everything would be just the thing!
Solutions that are too easy, however, don't satisfy in fiction. The author needs to send characters over hurdles, against proverbial brick walls, toward the near-impossible. Satisfaction comes from one or two intrepid characters facing their fate with grit, determination, and not a little presence of mind. Satisfaction comes from seeing all ends tied in a way that a reader finds resourceful, unusual ... but always applicable to how they see life. It's got to be feasible. It must feel right.
The Hidden Auditorium, my latest offering, it was hard to come up with a predicament that required all this, but a good brainstorming session, a lot of reading and research - not to mention quite a lot of rewriting and planning - did the job. My protagonist has a first-world modern dilemma in an ancient city: Rome. He is fed up with a superficial life and seems to need something deeper: a quandary many find themselves in, somewhere in mid-life. He doesn't know what's wrong, exactly - but the reader senses it almost immediately: he misses a meaningful relationship, and hopefully might find one before the end.
Reading a story that contains a number of apparently insuperable problems is excellent entertainment. It's distraction from real life, where solutions do not present themselves so easily, even if our problems are not as drastic as being held at knife-point, or being trussed up with cable-ties at the back of a car. And that's what readers seek: something drastic and sticky enough to distract them from ordinary mundane matters, such as the latest power bill or a burnt pizza.
If you are a reader who likes intrigue, tell me what you like to find in fiction.