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 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 🙂

  5. 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?

  6. 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.)

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    • I’m having a similar problem, except I have some scenes that bore me (tiny subplots dealing with some child POV characters) that I want to cut out (though cute and funny they only sustain the plot of the book itself, not the entire series.)

      The beta readers I shared the stor(ies) to, want the reverse: They want me to cut out the scenes that interest me the most (the grown up character’s POV’s and their “drama” stuff building up the series plot) and keep the child POV scenes that bore me. Ouch.

    • Peter Kapitola says

      Hi Joe. Maybe it’s useful to clarify the difference between events and scenes. It may be critical to the story that event A led to event B which lead to event C. But these events don’t necessarily all have to be dramatised as scenes.

      After scene A finishes, there are a few options. Event B could be summarised by the narrator. Or you could cut to scene C but have the characters talking about event B that just happened. Or you could go straight to scene C and create some confusion and intrigue that is resolve later on when someone reveals what happened in scene B.

      So in summary, there are the basic events of the story, and then there are the scenes that you choose to dramatise. Not all the events of the story need to be dramatised.

  9. Well said! Nothing loses a reader faster than meaningless prose.

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