Afraid Your Book Is Boring? Your Characters May Not Be Doing This One Important Thing

Afraid Your Book Is Boring? Your Characters May Not Be Doing This One Important Thing

This week’s video shows one of the top reasons it’s possible your book is boring your readers and offers the easy (and fun) solution.

Video Transcript:

Honestly, I think the single scariest word any reader can apply to our books is boring. It’s the kiss of death. A story can overcome just about any other flaw, including just plain bad writing, as long as it has charisma enough to entertain readers. But if your book is boring? Eep. That’s non-negotiable.

It could be your book is boring for any number of reasons, but the single biggest one is very possibly the one I’m about to share with you.

Imagine this.

You’re reading a very high-concept science fiction story that opens with a really killer hook, in which the female lead is attacked by a strange intruder into a government compound. She’s rescued by the male lead, who has his own obvious secrets, and you’re very interested, not only in the potential (and inevitable) romance that will develop between them, but also in just getting to listen in as they get to know each other and react together to this incredible opening scene.

But that’s not what happens.

What happens is that he goes his way, and she goes her way, and they never talk until roundabout the First Plot Point, 25% of the way into the story.

Watching them walk around, avoiding each other—and any other potentially interesting character—while they do all their reacting inside their respective heads is boring. Readers want to see these characters interacting. We want to see some interpersonal conflict. We want to learn about one character through the lens of the other, and vice versa.

So what am I saying here? What I’m saying is that character interaction is the single greatest antidote whenever you’re worried your book may be boring. Unless your character is Horatio Hornblower, don’t let him spend too much time locked up in his own head.

Horatio Hornblower Gregory Peck

Give him somebody to talk to. And definitely don’t dangle the possibility of a great interaction for chapters on end for no good reason. If you’ve got two good characters on stage, put them together, inject some conflict, see what happens, and watch your readers’ boredom disappear.

Tell me your opinion: What’s the first thing you try when you’re afraid your book is boring?

Afraid Your Book Is Boring? Your Characters May Not Be Doing This One Important Thing

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Like many readers, I was a huge fan of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. Like many readers also, I struggled with the subsequent books in the Earth’s Children’s series because of the tedium of archaeological and topographical descriptions, and long series of not much happening.

    I understand that historical scholars might love such stories but I struggled, especially with The Plains of Passage, largely due to the lack of regular character interaction, which you correctly point out leads to boredom. When I started the fifth story, The Stones of Shelter, I did the absolutely unthinkable and stopped reading a little less than halfway through the book. I cannot even remember the last time I did that. Not finishing a book is not me.

    It’s not my intent to criticize for the sake of criticism. But I’d like to think this is a constructive comment for the purpose of providing an example of what you suggest is so important, which, again, is character engagement. I did enjoy reading about the protagonists Ayla and Jondalar, but there was never quite enough to get me feeling as though they filled the pages as much as the prehistoric Earth.

    Thanks for this insightful video.

    Joe

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Historical and science fiction novels both tend to be guilty of this more often than other books in other genres, simply because the authors have such an investment in the *information* in competition to the *story.* It’s definitely something to be aware of.

      • Susi Franco says:

        ——annnnnnd yet another caveat in my ever-growing list of Things Not To Do To My Book. Arrrgghhhh.

        Your point about historical fiction is well-taken, though. Yup, you’re right ( per usual :), I have a massive investment in the research, the endless bloody research that goes into making scenes for my characters realistic enough for the reader to ‘buy in’.

        ( ex: I invested 3 twelve hour days researching the topography of 1600’s Edinburgh, printing out several ancient city street maps, downloading pen & ink drawings and paintings done of the town during that period and matching them up to the maps, learning what sorts of shops-churches-buildings etc were present then, all to make a backdrop for the opening scene where the MC walks down the cobblestone streets shopping in the Luckenbooth market stalls. All that info was condensed into about 10 sentences of description.)

        I hadn’t considered the possibility of that information conflicting with my story. My aim was to enhance it.

        I think maybe it’s one of those delicate balance issues…?? I admit I’m a little confused here. Being an artist I’m a visual learner; I enjoy books where authors “build” those scenes for us, giving little details that help us see the story in our heads as we read it. I wanted to write such a book myself.

        How do I know if I’ve overdone it ?

        Sighing heavily,
        Susi

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          If you’ve overdone it, your own gut instinct may be the first to let you know. If not, betas will. Be sure to ask them to take note of any place in the story where they grow bored or their attention starts to wander.

  2. Another timely post for me! In my current book, I’ve given my MC her great desire, and she’s worked hard for a chance at it, but intervening circumstances make it impossible for her to get it for about a month, so she thinks she will have to sit around and wait for a bit. Meanwhile, my first plot point happens, which rocks her world and makes her reevaluate her initial desire (though they end up being linked). So I’ve been worried about that–creating minor conflicts that hold readers’ attention but don’t compete/crowd the major conflict that’s about to come, or that conflict of her frustration in having to wait.

    To achieve this, I’m trying to focus on the quirks of her other relationships in the meantime (how she and her best friend are complete opposites, despite being close, and how this affects their relationship), etc. Small conflicts in intriguing ways. It still feels boring, though, like I’m missing something.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ask yourself how your character can still be working toward that goal in the interim–and how obstacles can still be getting in her way. If there’s absolutely *nothing* she can be doing, then you might want to consider summarizing that period to move on to the good stuff.

    • thomas h cullen says:

      “(though they end up being linked)”..

      Smart. I’m sure if you can create this kind of plot point then your story can be entertaining Lauren.

  3. Not too long ado, I was reading a book and found myself losing interest. Then I noticed there had been basically no dialogue for a quarter of the book. You’re absolutely right. It’s about characters taking action.

  4. You’ve definitely hit it on the head. The one ingredient novel writers can learn from script writers is characters are hardly ever left alone. Monologues can be dangerous and, frankly, can drift into whininess and angst. And I’m no Shakespeare, that’s for sure. I’m trying to take Chuck Palahniuk’s advice and avoid like the plague the use of memory words (thought, remembered, etc.). It’s hard, but, heck, writing’s hard.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, it is hard! There are only a gazilion and one things we have to remember all at the same time. But the endless challenge is what makes it so rewarding!

    • Susi Franco says:

      That’s a big “Amen”. 🙂

  5. KM, just wondering how women’s fiction plays into this? I know I personally LOVE delving deep into characters’ thoughts and heads and women’s fiction tends to do this. I also think what some people find “boring” in women’s fiction, others find enthralling as it delves into relationships via the lens of the MC’s thoughts. I’m not advocating no dialogue/action…but I’m wondering if WF is sort of an exception where we are allowed to have more ruminative writing?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Obviously, there are a lot of wonderful exceptions to this “rule” (Hornblower, as I said, being one of them). The trick in these instances is to create a character whose interior life is so rich that she’s essentially having a relationship with herself. It’s all about conflict, and, in this instance, inner conflict. Hornblower is a great character because he is *so* conflicted. He’s always fighting with himself to be better than he is–and then to believe he’s actually better. It makes for fascinating narrative even when no other characters are around.

      It’s also very important to realize that readers will be more content to sit and listen to a character’s inner monologue if there’s not an external interaction that is tempting them away. In short, don’t make the external interaction so great that readers will grow impatient whenever they have to slow down with the internal narrative.

  6. Madeline T says:

    Struggling with this very thing in my current WIP! Your posts are always so timely. Question though: if the only interaction my protagonist is getting is a mysterious voice in his head, how long can I draw out the suspense of WHO the voice belongs to before it’s revealed as the antagonist? His roommate was going to be his main source of interaction, but the idiot went and got himself killed! How should I approach “voice in the head” interaction so that it’s interesting and suspenseful at the same time?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ultimately, this is going to depend on the antagonist. If he’s interesting, nuanced, contradictory (in the sense that he’s not pure evil), and compelling, then you could conceivably stretch it for the entire book. But if readers get him figured out right off the bat and the relationship between the antagonist and the protagonist doesn’t evolve, then it won’t work as the central relationship for very long.

  7. And it’s not enough to have dialogue. There has to be some reason for it. They have to be working something out. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be what restaurant they want to go to. And if that’s an important decision in the context of the story, then I’ll stay interested. Otherwise the story just goes winging off into the dark realms where no plot can survive.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Very true! I’m mulling a series of posts on dialogue one of these days. There’s so much to consider there.

  8. Yes! I’ve run into this in romance novels…the characters meet, and then…nothing. For 20, 30, 50 pages. I put those books down. Not enough interaction for me! Especially in a romance.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! This is *especially* important in romances, since the interaction is the whole point.

  9. I’m confident that my writing strikes a fine balance with character interactions. My issue, or so I’ve found while revising, is extraneous scenes that feature character moments that were essentially discovery pieces while writing. Because I’m working with multiple timelines (2 main, 2 secondary) and multiple POVs I know I have to be a little more cautious about the scenes I choose to show than someone whose sticking to a single timeline linear progression, but I wonder if there is some sort of general guideline here on what’s acceptable to keep “off screen/contextual” between important characters. Especially involving the main character.

    My MC is in an “impact character” type of role for the first half of the book, and we see her plenty “in the moment” as it were until inciting incident changes her situation drastically in comparison to the rest of the cast. We continue to see her plenty throughout the second act as well just through a secondary timeline that informs the plot and her character, while what’s going on with her in the current dilemma is given through context from the other characters, using the negative space to inform. And toward the end of the second act through to the end of the book it starts to follow her exclusively.

    My gut tells me that this “negative space” tactic is keeping the story leaner and easier to follow. I’m just hoping that my gut isn’t trying to get away with being lazy because the alternative is mind-numbingly difficult. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Listen to your gut! It’s right more often than not. The biggest rule of thumb to keep in mind here is: Are you leaving out anything readers *want* to see? As long as you’re not “cheating” them, you should be fine.

  10. Ohhh this is so awesome!! Thank you! I actually think my characters interact too much :p Still, I will have this in mind.

    M.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah! As long as they’re moving the plot and not repeating themselves, there’s no such thing as too much interaction. Okay, maybe there is. 😉 But it’s *hard* to do!

  11. Recently I read a book and the first 2 chapters (that were nearly 10 pages long each) that were just laundry lists of information. I ended up reading the end of the book first, and once my interest was sparked, I finished where I was in the third chapter. It was boring whenever a new person was introduced, because, the writer would always give a full description of that person.

    A question I have, though;
    I enjoy writing fictional stories, and Lord willing will some day write a novel, but, I notice that every ‘good’ and most wanted to read book out there have to do with some type of romance. I don’t wan to write that. At all. I don’t like reading it, and don’t like writing it (no offense). Is there a way to make a story turn out good if you don’t have a ‘relationship’ going on between two main characters? (not like, siblings, or two girls, or anything, as that’s what my recent books are about, but…) I just don’t feel like I can add thrill to my story. Boring.

    Thank you for your post! Your site has been the most helpful one I’ve found.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You definitely don’t have to include a love angle. Relationship is going to be at the heart of most stories (mostly, because it’s at the heart of conflict), but that relationship absolutely doesn’t have to be a romantic one. Parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, friendships, mentor/student relationships, frenemies, enemies–the list goes on and on.

      • Thank you so much…! Your blog is the most helpful one I have found and enjoy greatly when I get an email saying something new has been posted.

Trackbacks

  1. […] You’re reading a very high-concept science fiction story that opens with a really killer hook, in which the female lead is attacked by a strange intruder into a government compound. She’s rescued by the male lead, who has his own obvious secrets, and you’re very interested, not only in the potential (and inevitable) romance that will develop between them, but also in just getting to listen in as they get to know each other and react together to this incredible opening …read more […]

  2. […] Award: “If Your Book is Boring, do This.” – I had to rewrite the first four chapters of my fiction book for this very […]

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