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Popular Books: Wish Fulfillment Edition

Today, I’m going to talk about what makes movies blow up.

Now, it’s extremely hard to predict when a movie will be a huge box office success. After all, Cassandra Clare is a boss in her own right, but the City of Bones movie was very hit and miss with people. It’s the same with a lot of book-to-movie adaptations.

I don’t think that’s an accident. City of Bones was fun, but in order for a book to translate to massive box office sales, it needs to be more than fun. If people leave a movie or put a book down, and the experience left them feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside, they’ll forgive a lot. It’s why I like the movie Catwoman, even though the movie is trash and everyone hates it. I love what it was trying to do, and I love how much Sharon Stone killed it. I also love cats, and there were plenty of adorable cats in the movie. Most importantly, though, is this: despite all the bad, I like the movie because I’ve fantasized about waking up with cat powers since Batman Returns of whatever year that crap came out. Catwoman scratched that fantasy itch.

My goal as a writer, of course, is to be the person who leaves you feeling fuzzy with a story that’s actually good and well-written. But the above example is my exact point. Wish fulfillment goes a long way. Catwoman would have left a better taste in people’s mouths if more people fantasized about cat powers like I have.

Let’s take two more popular examples – examples that made a lot more money and scratch way more itches than Catwoman.

First, the secret and not-so-secret love of a lot of people: Twilight – that series had a wish fulfillment confetti canon spewing all over it. “Plain” girl. “Hot” guy. “Drama.” If I fantasized less about cat powers and more about being a plain nothing who gets the hot guy for no reason, I would have loved that, especially as a teenager. Think about all the grown-ass women who loved Twilight. I bet you anything they had or have a secret or not-so-secret “plain girl gets the hot guy” fantasy.

On top of that, there’s the fact that Bella smarts off to her dad and gets away with it. Fantasy. She a terrible friend but they all still fawn over her anyway. Fantasy. Her childhood friend grows up hot and slobbers all over her. Fantasy. Think about it. How many people feel unimportant and plain and the exact opposite of special? Old pasty guy comes into Bella’s life, brings delicious drama and his nasty diamond-encrusted skin, and old boring girl’s life is rocked, like, so hard. Suddenly she’s special and didn’t have to do anything to become that way. It’s pure fantasy, and people LOVE that.

Second, the freakishly huge fandom that is Harry Potter. I’ve dreamed of being a wizard. Come on, you have, too. 😀

Think about it. Harry is oppressed. Literally treated like an unwanted rat in the basement (or cupboard under the stairs), and suddenly he’s whisked away to Hogwarts where he’s popular and loved and special and pampered. And oh, by the way, he’s a powerful wizard at only 11 years old. It’s FANTASY!

He has great friends. Power. A coveted position on the sport’s team. He’s not even particularly good at his studies, but it doesn’t matter. He’s still a great wizard, just innately.

In real life, people can’t be wizards or plain girls who get whisked away by the “hottest” guy ever in existence for no reason. Those things don’t happen in real life, but they do happen in books. And if you can give that to someone, they will sleep with it, shower with it, eat it, and rub it all over their bodies.

People get transferred to another world when they read. Sure, if you’re a real world mystery kind of person, you’re going to be more interested in Dan Brown than Rick Riordan, writer of Percy Jackson books. Same thing applies. Have you ever read a Dan Brown book or seen one of those movies based on his work? It’s fantasy and wish-fulfillment.

Even when people don’t have some deep-seated desire to be a wizard (which is no one by the way – haha), they may still want to know what it’s like to explore a cave Indiana Jones-style. Books let you experience exciting stuff without actually having to do it. And let’s be real, not everyone actually wants to do these things. Sometimes, things are just fun.

I don’t want to unlock the mysteries of some underground cult, and I certainly don’t want to explore a dark cave in real life, because hello, scary, but I’ll certainly read all about it, or at least see the movie because the book like wicked thick. Sometimes a girl just wants to go on an adventure without leaving the house.

The main character in Dan Brown’s books is awesome. He’s smart and well-traveled and solves all these crazy, intricate riddles. How awesome would it be to be that guy in those books, whatever his name is, Richard Langdon? Tom Hanks? 😛 It would be EPIC!

People interested in space, like space books that let them explore the unexplored. People like reading about historical settings they can’t visit because Elon Musk hasn’t invented a time machine yet. And people like me like books that give me magic powers, because I don’t have any!

Even if you haven’t read Harry Potter and don’t understand it, I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s so popular. Life can be boring. We’re not all interesting people, but we can be when we read a book.


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