Ignore the grinches who discuss wish fulfillment as though it’s a bad thing. Everyone loves wish fulfillment, even them! The trick is to add it in ways that are broadly enjoyable, or at least tolerable, rather than catering to one group at the cost of another. Don’t worry: we have many ways to do it.
In fact, we have so many ways that I’ve narrowed it down. So, I ditched big and complex items like writing a portal fantasy. You won’t want to turn your story into a portal fantasy if it isn’t one already, at least not for wish fulfillment alone. Also, none of these items rely on traits your hero was born with. We all love the idea of being inherently special, but it comes at the risk of suggesting that some people are superior to others. I’m not dissing your favorite chosen-one story; it’s just nice to have alternatives.
Without further ado, let’s look at 12 easy ways to add wish fulfillment to your story.
1. Awesome Pets
If there’s anything people love more than animals, it’s cute animals that follow us around and give us cuddles when we’re lonely. In real life, there are a limited number of animals that we can responsibly adopt as pets. Not all of those species are particularly interested in being our constant companions.
In fiction, our protagonists can have any type of pet – real or imagined. Want a dolphin? A bat? How about a dragon? We can give the animal humanlike traits or magical abilities. Would you like your pet to talk? Have a psychic bond with you? Wear cute hats and come to tea?
Then, the pet can do anything. Send them to spy on the hero’s enemies or fetch coffee in the morning. The options are endless and endlessly enjoyable.
2. Leveling Up
Our love of unlocking new skills and abilities is so powerful that it’s the primary motivator in many games. What’s more, taking joy in becoming more competent and powerful doesn’t require a character to be cool on page one. That’s important, because underdogs are popular with a broader audience. Plus, it means more when an underdog learns something new.
So let your protagonist struggle before leveling up. There’s nothing quite like the payoff that comes with a character using a hard-won ability for the first time. After tripping over a spell incantation for a whole chapter, succeeding just in time to fend off an attacker is magnifique.
For best results, make each new skill relatively small but still useful a few times in the story. That way, you can squeeze in more without making your protagonist too powerful.
3. Social Recognition
Being cool doesn’t mean as much if no one recognizes us for it. Almost everyone wants social validation, making it a powerful form of wish fulfillment. However, we need to be a little cautious with it. Social recognition is a type of candy that can easily become obnoxious to many audience members.
Like leveling up, it’s usually better to delay social recognition until the protagonist has done something to earn it. Let’s say they’re struggling to learn a spell that everyone else in their class got right away, giving them serious spinach. Then the attackers arrive, and all those classmates lose their cool and can’t cast it anymore. The protagonist, who’s been working their ass off, operates better under pressure and finally manages to cast the spell. Now the class is grateful and impressed with the protagonist, delivering that social recognition.
You can also use forms of social recognition that won’t puff up the ego so much. That’s less likely to feel obnoxious to readers who aren’t head over heels for your character. Instead of showing off in front of a crowd, community members can simply thank the protagonist for their hard work or the risks they took.
4. Sweet Homes
From The Boxcar Children to The Swiss Family Robinson, entire stories have been based on heroes finding sweet digs. Don’t you want a cool boxcar fort or a treehouse complete with a piano in the upper branches? What a hardship for those families!
Wish fulfillment homes are about novelty, atmosphere, and idyllic lifestyles. You have a huge variety of options depending on the tone of your work and theme of your world. A dark story might feature a Victorian manor full of secret rooms, confusing dead ends, and ghosts in the attic. Then, you can pretend this house is horrifying and not somewhere all of your readers want to live. Other stories might feature a cottage that’s straight from a Kinkade painting, with some chickens pecking around that no one actually has to care for.
5. Fixing Intractable Problems
This one’s a little odd, but hear me out. In real life, we’re often frustrated by problems we feel powerless to solve. Usually because other humans are part of the issue. Ugh, humans, amirite?
This might feature something as simple as showing how the neighbor’s dog keeps pooping on the protagonist’s yard and then giving the protagonist a spell to keep the dog away. As a more elaborate example, take the interactive text game You Are Jeff Bezos, in which you wake up as Jeff Bezos and get to spend all of his money. The novel Project Hail Mary features a climate-change scenario, except in the fiction, humanity appoints a powerful project lead who has the authority to draft whoever she needs to, bypass legal obstacles, and just order people to do whatever it takes to solve the problem.
If you’re using this one, I have one request: consider the message it sends. If your heroic princess swoops in to cut through bureaucratic red tape, that’s some pro-monarchy propaganda you got there. Democracy may be frustrating, but authoritarianism is worse.
6. Dashing Clothes
We all want to look good, and sometimes we forget that looking good is about more than the bodies we were born with. Or, worse, we actively stigmatize looking good in other ways, such as wearing makeup. Begone, you grinches! You got nothing on my sparkly gold eye shadow.
Any kind of apparel can be cool. Are the protagonists out in the wilderness? How about some swishy cloaks that provide supernatural camouflage? Are they in bed? How about some long flowy nightgowns or comfy pajamas with penguins on them? When it’s time to dress up, they might have crisp suits or cute dresses. And don’t forget to accessorize with heirloom jewelry, pouches of herbs, or a tie with a hypnotic pattern that distracts the unsuspecting.
Of course, the very best apparel comes with another wish-fulfillment opportunity: parties!
7. Raves, Balls, & Festivals
Humans hold a huge variety of amazing gatherings that can deliver wish fulfillment in multiple ways. First, you have an excuse to get your main character to dress up, whether that means formal wear or blacklight body paint. Then, because lots of other characters will be present, you get to show them dress up too! Does the stuffy guy cut loose when he goes to a rave? Does the dorky girl kill it when she goes to the ball?
There’s also the general atmosphere, with rituals and decor. The rave can be dark and smoky, the ball might be a Venetian masquerade, the picnic could be awash with teddy bears, and the festival might feature puppet shows and costumed paraders. A big crowd also offers many opportunities for protagonists to blend in, get separated, or be surprised by antagonists.
Of course, gatherings feature another thing you shouldn’t forget: food.
8. Food Porn
Describing food is a great way to add enjoyment, build atmosphere, flesh out your world, and send readers running for the fridge! In most cases, food wish fulfillment fits into a bigger picture of idyllic living. Your Kinkade cottage might have herbed chevre supplied by the goats that clear out brambles, whereas your fae palace might have wine that offers a fond memory with every sip.
But even a real-world setting with mundane apartments can bust out some s’more cookies with gooey marshmallows or roasted duck with crispy skin and apple-sage stuffing. For extra feel-good vibes, let your characters bake together or cook dinner for one another.
9. Slick Tools & Weapons
No wish-fulfillment cabinet is complete without the ancient sword of splendidness or the gadget too new to be on the market. Because tools and weapons often impact the story, they’ll stand out more than food or clothes that are described and then forgotten. They’re also a great way to boost a protagonist that isn’t contributing enough to the team.
The best tools and weapons offer a unique benefit that’s useful in the story without dominating every fight. A great example is Sting from Lord of the Rings, which glows blue to warn its wielder that orcs are close by. Once you know what you’d like the item to do, come up with a fun description to match. Not every item needs to be pretty; it also might be worn or rugged to suit your character.
10. Fun Jobs & Businesses
Wish fulfillment doesn’t have to stop at the workplace. Many jobs or businesses make great wish fulfillment, even when we wouldn’t enjoy the work in real life. In the minds of most readers, a coffee shop means community and delicious drinks, not the work of making drink after drink all day long. An inn means meeting travelers and hearing tales of adventure, not cleaning rooms. But don’t be afraid to go with something obscure or imaginary. Maybe your protagonist sells secrets, codes computer viruses to order, or ghostwrites love letters.
Depending on your story, a business might be the backdrop for protagonist meetings, or it might influence the story’s direction. Services might become a plot point or simply demonstrate a character’s emotional state. Maybe your protagonist sells love letters because they’re too chicken to write to their crush like they want to.
11. Supportive Social Groups
Have you noticed how many fanfics make the protagonists roommates? We love that because it gives us a chance to see characters interacting in a positive and cooperative way. Having a tight-knit family or community that supports each other, splits the work, and engages in shared endeavors is great wish fulfillment.
This community could be a traditional family, but that’s only one of many great options. A found family, polycule, breakfast club, or any other community can fill this role. The trick is to make it feel like every member is important to everyone else. Then, give them activities to do together, whether it’s grocery shopping, watching movies, or publishing a journal on the local wildlife.
People don’t need to get along seamlessly. Showing that people differ but still manage to bridge those gaps with effort is great wish fulfillment too.
12. Cool Libraries
I know this one’s oddly specific, but we love libraries that much. Some characters have libraries in their homes or as their workplaces, but that’s not important. Just ensure the protagonist can visit to stare at vast shelves of old books, all carrying mystical knowledge or forgotten history to be discovered. In the right setting, it’s a great way for the protagonist to find important clues.
Use any fantastical elements of your setting to make your library special. It might be a big maze where shelves move to lead visitors to whatever book the library chooses. It can have magical guardians who test visitors with riddles before letting them enter. Or maybe opening a book is dangerous, for dark magic always tries to escape from the pages to pollute the world outside.
Don’t be afraid to add some indulgent fun to your story. Just make sure it fits the tone and theme, and don’t rely on wish fulfillment to entertain your audience for too long. After all, you don’t need lots of page space for wish fulfillment to be effective. An extra paragraph here and there can be enough.
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