Apologies for the difficulties I've been having, and leaning for help here. Every step seems to be its own stumbling block.
Question: All else being equal, is a positive desire/goal/motivation (of the main character) more 'hooky' for the reader than a negative desire/etc?
My male lead had originally started his story 'running from' hideous circumstances. He fell into trouble quickly on his own, and so his story opened in conflict and went from bad to worse. Readers say they do not connect with him. (They do connect with the alternating PoV female, who starts with a more traditional story arc, living her life normally, although she has her own issues as discussed previously.)
I'm in the middle of re-working his motivations so that he is moving towards something he wants. The early chapters (~10 - 15%) are now more of a pleasant aspirational escape for the reader (in other words, I am trying to more closely follow the story arc structure as suggested by MB, and frame the beginning of his arc as 'normal life' - and positive effort).
I've been wrestling each choice he makes (which are the same choices in the original version) into the schema of 'He is working towards an admirable goal, and is living within his normal life.' Additionally, he now starts his story arc higher on the 'competency' slider (as described by Sanderson, as this is supposed to make characters more 'likable.')
The story is largely the same, I'm merely changing the details so that he is working towards something definitive, in his normal life, (rather than running from something unpalatable and leaving his life behind on page 3.) Every challenge is still there, but rather than shrouded in desperation (version 1) it is now colored by effort and accomplishment (version 2).
My goal is to help the reader connect and root for the guy more easily. But, like any change, these revisions have ripple effects throughout the book, and it may be that after weeks of wrestling it all into a new shape, it will have lost (a) his remarkable growth in competence that was present in version 1, and (b) some of the oomph of logic for later choices, (eg why he chooses anonymity later in the book doesn't make sense as things stand now; I need to work on that today.)
So, I'm looking for a quick reality check. I'm aware that either approach (running from vs working towards) can be powerful. But perhaps they are not both as easily hooky. The genre is SF-F. Perhaps readers want fantasy to be an escape, and a world they'd like to be on.
If all else is held more-or-less constant, is a positive motivation more engaging to the reader than a negative motivation?