I got a book recommendation a few weeks ago and immediately ordered it because the topic was Characterization. One of my bugaboos. Sort of. After you've written sixty books, you know how to do everything. But I'm still seeking refinement. I will ALWAYS seek refinement. :)
Anyway, I bought this book expecting to be wowed or at least enlightened, but before we were out of chapter one, the author/teacher said something like...a great plot doesn't make a great story. It's only when characters' goals and motivations drive the conflicts associated with the plot that your story really comes alive.
Romance writers have known this forever.
It's why we focus on goal, motivation and conflict. It doesn't matter how crafty your twists and turns, if they don't significantly impact the CHARACTERS and somehow raise the stakes...Romance readers say, "Meh." Whatever.
I used to laugh at how blatant action/adventure movies were with their motivations...We must steal 60 cars in one night or our leader's brother will be killed by a gangster. Or "You killed my wife...I'm coming after you." Or...Let's not forget TAKEN. Daughter kidnapped. Daddy goes after her.
The movies spend most of their time on the shoot 'em up, car chases and fist fights with kicking and head butts. But my husband buys into the premise every time. "Well, yeah. I'd be pissed if someone took Sarah." (Our daughter.) He puts himself into the shoes of his action heroes because he understand their motivations...no matter how cliché. LOL
Your reader wants to do that too. She wants to believe your hero's reasons for not wanting to commit and your heroine's reasons for not wanting to fall in love again. She wants to feel them fall in love. And feel them fight it because their experiences have taught them that love can be painful.
She wants to believe your sleuth when he can't walk away from the murder he investigates. She wants to believe the motives of your mainstream heroine or hero. She wants to believe.
And the only way you can make her believe is by creating strong goals, motivations and conflicts. Characters who have a real journey. (Let that last line sink in. Think about it. Do your characters have a REAL journey?)
So don't just come up with a "this happens, then this happens, then this happens" plot. Have your plot evolve logically from your characters, their hopes, their dreams, the barriers to those hopes and dreams, and the actions they take. And you will have a much better...dare I say compelling...story.