Friday, December 8, 2017

How to Keep Your Book From Being Boring

Stories should be many things.

They should be creative. They should provoke thought, inspire beautiful actions, create a bond between the reader, writer, and characters. 

And they should always, always be entertaining. 

And yet we've all read books that are either flat-out snooze fests or have paragraphs that are not interesting enough to deserve more than a quick skim. 

I'm tired of it, people. Tired. If I wanted to be bored I'd go watch a documentary about how to watch paint dry.

Can we all just decide to stop writing boring books or paragraphs? Yes? Okay, then. Thank you. 

What? Why are you still here? Don't you know how to not be boring? Fiiine. Here are some ways to keep your book from putting people to sleep: 
How to Keep Your Book From Being Boring
Ask: Is this boring? No, seriously. Every time you sit down to write a scene, ask: Is this boring? Every. Time. Get in the habit of constantly checking for boring scenes. Not sure if it's boring? Ask yourself this: 
  • Will I be bored writing this scene? If you are dreading writing a scene because nothing interesting happens, that is a bad sign. How do you expect your readers to be invested if you aren't? 
  • Would I care if I was reading this? Try to put yourself in your readers shoes. If you had to read this section, would you be fascinated? Mildly interested? Bored? Bored and annoyed in a way that would rival even Alexander Dane's constant emotional state?
    If it's any of those last three options, you have work to do. 
Now that you've established that this section is likely boring, how do you avert the disaster? 

1. Ask: Is it necessary? What would happen if I cut it out? Why are you writing this section? Does it have key information? A pivotal piece of character development? If not: Don't write it. Nothing in your books should be there without purpose. If the scene does have some key point to it, try these: 

2. Change the information flow. If there's something pivotal (character development, world building information, foreshadowing, etc) that needs to take place, try spacing it out. Does it really need to happen all in one, boring scene? Can you sprinkle the information throughout other less-boring scenes? Hint: The answer is yes. 

3. Keep things moving. Literally. Are your characters sitting down? Have them walking. Running. Fighting dragons. Gardening. Washing laundry. Anything that gets them up and about and doing something other than just behaving as a vehicle for whatever information you're trying to convey. Think about how this scene would be done in a movie (like, a good one...not one of those terrible 80s movies with the weird pacing). Mimic that. 

4. Be intentional with the words you use. Language is key. Use interesting words. Vary your sentences (short sentences can often be more eye-catching than longer ones) and paragraphs (don't have any of them too long, but don't feel the need to keep them all the same size). Don't be afraid to get a little bit artistic with your sentences and paragraphs. If your writing style is good, it will help keep the story up and running. No, you shouldn't rely solely on this to keep your book from being boring, but it is helpful when combined with the above (and below) tips. 

5. Don't be afraid to jump over details or scenes. So, maybe your character needs to get from A to B. Does it matter how they get there? No? Then skip the travel sequence. Your character is undergoing training? Do you need to show the actual training lessons? No? Splice information together into a montage and only show the key lesson(s). Go watch the Rocky movie for examples of this. It may feel brutal to jump over parts of the story, but you'll be proud of yourself in the end. 
Gotta love this scene. And the movie in general.
6. Remember that you're not Tolkien. You know who can describe a blade of grass for two pages and still sell books? Tolkien. You know who can't? You. So stop with the insane amounts of description. If it's not relevant, don't talk about it. If you're trying to describe the setting because it helps set the mood or explain context, describe details as you go. Or in a very, very short paragraph. Actually, just read this post. 

7. Take notes on entertainment that is well-paced. Most good movies/TV shows have no boring scenes. Think Jason Bourne, The Thin Man, Stranger Things, Murder on the Orient Express (yes, I'm talking about the new one) The Winter Soldier, I Love Lucy, The Dark Knight. Comic books and manga are also notoriously good at avoiding the Boring Zone (click here for a list of good ones). Many of the Harry Potter books are thoroughly entertaining. Watch/read some of these and notice: How often do they omit scenes? How do they convey information? In scenes that could have been boring, how do they keep you invested? Take notes and apply them to your writing. 

Do you have any tips to add? Please leave them below! Why/when do you think you struggle with keeping your writing from being boring? Let's chat.

Related articles:
8 Tips to Improve Your Descriptive Writing
Why Not All Prologues Are Evil (And How to Write A Good One) 
Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story - A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman

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7 comments:

  1. Great tips, Hannah! Number 3 (Keep Things Moving) is especially helpful for dialogue. And one of the best ways I learned how to do combine dialogue with action was when I had to write a play for creative writing. Though most of the action wasn't in the script, I had to think like a director and come up with blocking for the actors (we had to put on the play for our classmates).

    On the other hand, I'd just like to add that you can't please everybody. No matter what type of writer you are, there are all types of readers out there with various preferences. While one story might be boring to one person, that doesn't mean it can be incredibly enjoyable to another. I've encountered conflicting feedback from critique partners before, one saying a certain chapter was boring, another saying it wasn't. So just write what you enjoy!

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  2. I get what you're saying, but I think it's important to keep a balance. Depending on the sort of story you're writing, description and things other than action can be important. The Earthsea trilogy is a good example of this: the fact that not every scene is dialogue or action adds to the mythical atmosphere.
    On the other hand, I think stories and films that are all action can feel cheap. True, The Dark Knight has no boring scenes in it, but the violence quickly starts to lose its impact (for me, at least). By the end, I was kind of like "Oh, someone's pointing a gun at someone... again. And there's another explosion... And another one. Is there any point to all of this?"

    I'm not disagreeing with you exactly, but I think sometimes writers and film makers should try to bear in mind that they're creating a work of art, and not assume that the answer is to have everyone running around killing each other the whole time.

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  3. This is THE BEST ADVICE. I'm rewriting a book right now which means all the boring stuff has to be sliced away. Painful. But good.

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  4. "You know who can describe a blade of grass for two pages and still sell books? Tolkien. You know who can't? You." Lol, this post was great!

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  5. I know I'm in the minority here but I actually find Tolkien's writing style monotonous and stopped reading LOTR because it made me yawn all the time. My sincere apologies to the fans.

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  6. This post is rad! There's a ton of great advice - especially always moving the story and plot forward and not writing boring scenes. I know if I'm bored, the reader will be bored. Loved this post! Seriously needed it after struggling with NaNo, yo. Thank you for this!

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  7. This is good because I've been thinking about how I need to make every scene in my book interesting before I want it to get published.

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