Save Readers From Boredom: Five Fool-Proof Preventatives

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 indicates only apathy. And the apathetic reader won’t be your reader for long. 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 the character is running and fighting for his life can turn out boring, imagine what can happen with scenes that aren’t as heavy in the speed, tension, and conflict departments to begin with. Of course, this begs the question: “How do we recognize when we’ve written a boring scene?”

1. It bores you.

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.”—Gail Godwin, The Making of a Writer, Volume 2

2. It’s repetitious.

When you’ve already 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. It’s 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, all 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. It’s 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. Its 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 the highest of stakes will quickly grow tedious if all the characters do is sit around and agree with one another about their hopeless plight.
If we can avoid these five boredom bombs, we can slay reader apathy before it starts and keep them riveted from page one all the way through to the end.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever forced yourself to write a scene you found boring?

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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.

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