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Save Readers From Boredom: 5 Fool-Proof Preventatives

save readers from boredom

save readers from boredom

The bored reader is the writer’s worst nightmare. Angry readers we can tolerate—some writers even cultivate them—because anger at least indicates emotional involvement. Boredom, however, indicates only apathy.

The scary part of all this is that we don’t always realize when we’re being boring. I once turned over to a beta reader a handful of chapters full of battles and chase scenes—only to have them returned to me with the report that they were long and boring. Say what?

If scenes in which characters are running and fighting for their lives can turn out boring, imagine what can happen with scenes that aren’t as naturally heavy in the speed, tension, and conflict departments.

5 Signs Your Story Might Be Boring Readers

All of this begs the question: “How do you recognize when you’ve written a boring scene?” Here are five signs that you might need to rethink your approach.

1. The Scene Bores You

As Gail Godwin says in The Making of a Writer, Volume 2:

There were parts of the stories that bored you to write them. (“I’ll just make myself finish this description.”) It didn’t occur to you that if it bored you, how much more it would bore the uninvolved reader.

2. The Scene Is Repetitious

When you’ve covered information in a previous scene, readers will get fidgety if forced to sit through it again. Comb through your manuscript for places where you’ve inadvertently repeated old information or created similar scenes.

3. The Scene Is Too Long.

My aforementioned beta reader explained the problem with my not-so-exciting action scenes was their length. When a scene drags on too long, the excitement is replaced with tedium. If you’re unsure whether or not a scene is too long, it probably is. When it doubt, short and snappy is almost always better.

4. The Scene Is Self-indulgent

We all occasionally write pet scenes that have special meaning to us. Perhaps it’s the vignette that inspired the story to begin with; perhaps it contains some especially brilliant subtext; or maybe it introduces a particularly lovable character. What’s sometimes tough for us to remember is that none of that stuff interests readers. The only scenes that matter to the reader are those that matter to the story.

5. The Scene’s Stakes and/or Conflict Are Low

Stakes and conflict go hand in hand. If one or the other is missing, a scene is guaranteed to fall flat. An argument that doesn’t put something at stake for one (or preferably more) of the characters is pointless—and boring. And even the highest of stakes will grow tedious if all the characters do is sit around and agree with one another about their hopeless plight.

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If you can avoid these five boredom bombs, you can slay reader apathy before it starts and keep them riveted from page one all the way through to the end.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever forced yourself to write a scene you found boring? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I must confess I’ve written a scene I’ve found boring. Haven’t we all. My character had a conniption about it and wanted to do something else. I went and played a round of golf. I schlepped my way through the chapter, and then later went back and had a cup of coffee with my protagonist and asked her what she wanted to do with the mess. Ultimately she wanted to delete the boring stuff and do something interesting, like steal something from a museum. “That’s not in the plot,” I said, “You’re supposed to meet so and so.”

    “I don’t want to meet so and so. I’m a thief,” she said, “It’s what I do. Don’t make me into something I’m not.” We robbed the museum and she bumped in the person during the get away. Conflict.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great illustration of why it’s so important to stay true to the character. When a scene’s not working, half the time it’s because we’re trying to force something, instead of letting it flow naturally.

  2. I simply can’t work when I am not interested in it myself. So I don’t have to worry at that part, but who can tell if I am being boring or not. Ultimately, only readers know.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re enjoying what you’re writing, then very likely at least some readers out there will enjoy it too. It’s just a matter of finding them.

      • Yeah! Meanwhile, just love your own work. Well, today I have finally officially announced in my home that I won’t share any of my idea or progress to any of you. Until I am finished with my first draft and feel ready myself.
        Now, I feel at quite ease in my writing procedures.

  3. LOOKOUT!! 5 Boredom bombs! aaaAAAHH!!

  4. Carolyn Egerszegi says

    OMG. I wish I’d read this article before I wrote my first novel. I failed on all points. lol.

  5. Well, this was certainly timely! I have this uncomfortable feeling, nay, knowledge, that several scenes in my current WIP are, in the words of my teenage grandchildren, “Booorrrrriinng!” In first-round revisions, so I have time to snip. Thanks, Kate!

  6. Back when I first started writing, after I wrote the first sentence, I wondered what I should do next. I considered describing the environment the guy was walking through, but I hate to read that stuff, so I really didn’t want to write it. I decided to focus only on those parts of the world that mattered to the guy and what he was doing. The main benefit of this technique is that all description is dynamic, the act of perceiving the world, often from multiple points of view. I’ve also had it happen several times that when I go off in the wrong direction in the plot, my story stops. It doesn’t start again until I go back and find the derail point and tack a different tack. My character’s can’t tell me where they’re going if they would never go there.

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