How to Spot and Leave Out the Parts That Bore Readers

How to Spot and Leave Out the Parts That Bore ReadersSkipping the parts that bore readers should be a no-brainer. And yet this a surprisingly common pitfall.

Why?

To some extent, writers struggle with know what will bore readers—mostly, because we don’t all agree on what is boring. Lengthy battle scenes turn some readers off, long descriptions are dreaded by most, and I even ran across one reader who told me she tended to skip dialogue.

Obviously, you can’t skip all of these things—or you’d have no story!

How to Swashbuckle Your Way Right Past the Boring Parts

Twenty Years After Alexandre DumasHowever, you can take a page from Alexandre Dumas’s Twenty Years After—the sequel to his rightly celebrated classic The Three Musketeers—and learn how he deftly avoided the dull parts that could have made readers start flipping through his scenes.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Dumas never allowed his narrative to bog down in scenes that didn’t move his plot forward.

For example, late in the book, after detailing his four heroes’ escape from a ship rigged to explode, he describes their night at sea and their rescue by a fishing boat in just a few quick paragraphs.

Learn What to Describe—and What to Skip

Less experienced authors might have been tempted to draw out this scene, milking the drama for all it was worth, chronicling the perilous waves, the chill and the hunger, and the characters’ splendid bravery in the face of these trials.

But Dumas knew readers would be eager to see the Musketeers return to the action in France. Forcing readers to sit through a long chapter (or chapters) of the characters’ battling waves everyone knows they’ll defeat would only weary readers. The night at sea, dramatic as may have been in a different story, would only have detracted from the point of this story.

So Dumas deftly skipped it and launched his characters—and his readers—back into the swirl of war and political intrigue that was awaiting them ashore.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you remember the last scene you read that bored you? Tell me in the comments!

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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. It is sometimes difficult to know how much is too much when it comes to passages like the one you used here. A good lesson to take away from this, I believe, is to realize that if the characters themselves are being bored out of their minds (stuck on a boat, as in this example, or something similar), readers probably don’t want to sit there and be bored out of their minds hearing about it. Much as the writer may want to elaborate on the event…

    Thanks for the tip!

  2. A good rule of thumb is:

    If a scene doesn’t contribute to the story mission, cut it (or don’t write it the first time).

    The 2 pp on the escape and rescue contributed to moving the characters along the main storyline, but in and of itself wasn’t significant. So, minimal.

  3. This is such great advice. I find myself getting caught up in writing boring scenes far too often because I feel (at the time I’m writing it) that it’s important to the story. I have to find ways to cut the fat (as you’ve said before) and keep it lean. Thanks so much for the post!

  4. @Abigail: Definitely a good guideline. Another would be that, even if the characters aren’t bored (for instance, they could have spent their night at sea scared out of their wits), if you find yourself rehashing their emotions, it’s time to move on.

    @Bruce: Throwing drama at your characters just for the sake of drama is a recipe for disaster.

    @Mae: That’s the brilliant thing about writing: we can always chop the boring stuff in subsequent drafts!

  5. It’ s all about balance, isn’t it?

  6. Yep! Always seems to come back to that in writing, doesn’t it?

  7. Yes! And so much of modern fiction is boring to me. The danger of the modern fascination with deep 3rd POV is that the temptation to wallow in /every/ thought, every feeling, every clever observation, thus bulking our novels up and slowing our stories down. There is a time and place for deep 3rd, but not /all/ the time, and not /every/ place.

  8. Once upon a time, I decided I needed to write a longer novel, so I focused on expanding scenes. Lucky me, after the first draft was finished, I had the fun of chopping nearly a third of its length. Now my chief goal is to write as tight as possible.

  9. brilliant as always, and I think you hit the key when you noted that Dumant knew his readers.

    That’s the main thing, IMO. Knowing your readers and what they want. Natch you’re going to have all sorts of readers, but I think you can figure out who your core audience will be and what they want…

    Thanks again! :o)

  10. It’s certainly important to know our readers and try to give them what they want. But can’t try too hard to please them. Write a story that *you* would be interested in, first and foremost.

  11. Hmm, I never thought about what scenes to draw out in a work of writing or what scenes to make short. I just try to make the intense moments, intense and brief like real life; I try to take out all the boring parts and make my writing like a roller coaster until the very end. I want to make sure that the reader can’t put the book down, which is every writer’s goal really.

    Write on and I always love watching your short videos, which are informative and concise!

  12. As long you’re only including the parts that are pertinent to your story, you’re probably doing it just right.

  13. I’ve found many novels boring. Some of them I have closed, never to open again. Life is too short to torture myself with badly written stories.

  14. Hi K.M. Just letting you know that your blog has been featured on http://www.youngchristianbloggers.blogspot.com

  15. @Lorna: I’ve read enough stories I didn’t like in the beginning but loved in the end that I’m willing to stick most of them out. I’m just careful in my initial selection of reading materials.

    @Bonnie: Thanks!

  16. If I am bored with something in my ms, then I take it out – sometimes I used to try to talk myself into leaving it “but . . .but it has to stay in there!”

    – RIP! out they come – a little over a year ago, I’d not have been able to do that, now, I rip them out – thousands of words if necessary . . . and in the case of the novel that comes out this fall, doing this allowed me to see something else I couldn’t see because it had been hidden behind those unnecessary words!

    always a pleasure to come by here!

  17. Deleting the clunkers gets easier with time, I’ve found, probably because the more experienced we become, the better we’re able to see the big picture and realize how these painful deletions are entirely worth it in the long run.

  18. As always, you have an insightful and thought-provoking post.

    I think of each scene as packing a lone suit case for a trip. What do I really need? What can I live without? Is this item going to help me?

    I ask the same questions for each scene I write. What does this scene really need? What can my novel live without? And is this facet of the scene going to help my novel?

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. Sometimes I feel like I am playing to an empty house.
    Roland

  19. Good analogy! As much as it is a storyteller’s job to offer a recreation of life, it’s only our job to offer to recreate the bits that pertinent to the reader’s journey.

  20. This concept sounds so simple, but it’s easy to get off track and wander into writing a scene because we love it and not because it furthers the plot. I know I’m in trouble when I feel the urge to skip a scene from my own writing…and yet…it can still be hard to cut it…go figure!

    Thanks for stopping by today. I’ve got to check out that Atwood book you mentioned.

  21. Yes, it is difficult! As writers, we can sometimes be so enamored of our own writing and characters that we don’t always realize when they’ve become tedious.

  22. Great blog! I followed you here from LTM. Now a follower, I look forward to your posts. You have some great stuff here!

    KarenG

  23. Welcome aboard! I’m glad you found me. Thanks for commenting!

  24. Hmmm…so, I need to keep my eye on the goal of my story when deciding which scenes are necessary and which are extraneous. I suppose that’s common sense but it helps so much to have you explain it clearly like this. Thanks so much!

  25. Exactly. I like the explanation of story as a line of dominoes: once in motion, each domino must strike the one that follows. If a scene doesn’t influence the rest of the story, it probably isn’t necessary.

  26. I skimmed over a passage in my novel. I thought how boring it was. Right until final edits, it did not occur to me that a reader might also find it boring.
    I cut it and it made no difference to the storyline. It was the first cut I had ever made, but I realised the benefit of skipping the boring parts…eventually. 🙂

    Interesting post, thanks.

  27. Deleting – even when we know it’s in the story’s best interest – can be tough. Sometimes it makes things easier to move things to a delete folder rather than permanently x-ing it.

  28. Lauren Pezzullo says:

    I enjoy this blog so much, and this wonderful post is just what I needed. And @Ronald, I really love your analogy!

    I can tell even as I’m writing that some scenes are going to be cut later–those “establishing characters in everyday life” before a big plot point (for my WIP, this is the twist that sets the real story in motion, about 50 pages in), and these are what I’m having trouble with. I feel that I have to write through them in order to get to know the characters and their world myself (almost like they’re place-holders for the time being), andI plan to comb through them on the second draft of my WIP, but they’re even feeling a bit boring to me as I write them, which is a bad sign. Has anyone else gone through this? Is this something I should be fixing even in my first draft?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Nothing wrong with this. Sometimes we *need* to “clear our throats” to figure out where a scene is going. As long as we go back and edit these parts out, that’s all that matters. I think you’ll find that the more you write, the less you’ll need to actually write these unnecessary scenes. You’ll be able to tell the right place to start scenes and just dive in.

      • Lauren Pezzullo says:

        I think you’re right, and I appreciate your feedback. Feeling not so stuck (or overwhelmed!) anymore. 🙂

  29. I know that you should skip the boring parts when writing a novel, but to me condensing lots of information into a short paragraph and then following it with chapter long scenes always feels a bit uneven to me, even if its necessary. Especially when the short paragraph details a week long voyage and the chapter a half-hour conversation.

    I have a feeling I’m not quite grasping this. :\

    • Just to clarify: I’m perfectly fine with cutting boring scenes altogether, but to condense them (especially when they cover such a long period of time) seems disorientating.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        There can definitely be a certain disorienting factor in this technique. The author has to finesse the balance to mitigate that, but, in the long run, it’s still usually a worthwhile trade off.

    • Lauren Pezzullo says:

      @Joe, I feel the same way (it’s kind of what I was referring to in my comment). Maybe you should write them all out, boring and all, or whatever feels right so that you don’t rush your pacing, and then go back later to trim them down?

  30. Where did you get a picture of Mr. Darcy as a Musketeer?? 🙂

    (BTW I read through all *five* unabridged Musketeers books [albeit not in French! 😉 ] when I was in high school. I can’t believe I had that much time.)

  31. What a coincidence. I recently finished a book, “438 Days,” about a man who was lost at sea and battled waves, sun and boredom for…yes… 438 days. That was the entire story. But it was non-fiction. Since it was a true, incredible achievement, that made the difference that kept one reading. No way it would have worked as fiction.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      When it’s the point of the story, it suddenly becomes, well, you know, the point. 😉 Instead of being unnecessary filler.

  32. Joe Bell says:

    I have scenes that seem to be necessary to the logic. A happens because B happened because C happened. If I leave scene B out, the story breaks. But within B, nothing too dramatic is going on. Somebody does or says something that must be known to the reader, but it’s still drab. Then you try to dress it up, throw in conflict to make it more interesting, etc. But it feels like putting salt on a tasteless piece of meat. All you really taste is the salt. Unsatisfying. But scenes A and C are fun, each entertaining in their own right, full of flavor without the aid of condiments. So why does it happen that some scenes seem like necessary evils? It’s all the same story. Sigh.

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