Writing

Keep Your Writing Real — Not Really Boring

 

So, you’ve written a short story or novel…yay, you! It’s grammatically correct, historically accurate, shows not tells, and is incredibly — boring.  Simply getting from A to Z in a coherent line does not a masterpiece make.

The red ink I’ve encountered over the years has taught me a couple of things: #1) A story is never really finished, even after it’s published, and #2) For goodness sake, take out the boring parts!

Number two may seem like a no-brainer, but when the words are flowing, it’s sometimes hard to kill off your carefully crafted darlings, or remember that a little extra spice can be nice. If your beta readers are taking weeks to muddle through, or coming back with feedback so vague you can’t tell if they’re talking about your work or a pole-hopping porno thriller (unless…you know, that’s what you wrote about), your piece may be in need of an over-haul. 

A few areas to check on the dull-writing meter…

A Misplaced Plot

You’ve thought up some really fascinating characters that you’re able to present in a believable fashion. Say, a no-armed surgeon who also juggles and does a mean impersonation of Zsa Zsa Gabor. But, there has to be a story there — a want or motivation, a page-turning change, a journey or desire that the character seeks, and that comes to fruition. If all you do is describe your characters at length, what you have is a character sketch — not a story.

Painful Dialogue

“What do you want to do today?”
“I don’t know. What about you?”
“Whatever. You can decide.”
“I’m not sure — what were you thinking?”

I’m thinking I’d rather stick scissors in the skin between my thumb and pointer finger than continue reading. Does it sound like a real-life conversation? Unfortunately, yes. (Come listen to my teenage daughter and her friends sometime.) However, is this type of interaction interesting to a reader? Does it provide necessary information about the characters? Does it move the plot forward? Does it make you want to close the book? Answers should be No, No, No, and Heck, yeah, drivel master!

Description Gone Wild

The forest was quiet this morning. The smoky haze of dawn’s breath rose up in eerie silence. No sound babbled from the brook today — its mouth was clenched in respectful anticipation. It was as if someone had arrived with the Sand Man’s bag, and are you still reading this?!

Yes, some description is necessary to your story. It provides depth, sense of place, and authenticity. Not to mention that it’s just kicking fun to write. It is possible, though, to go overboard with your own brilliance. In the example above, all you really need is the first sentence. Pages upon pages of description is hard on the eyes, and an open invitation to, “SKIM HERE!” And once your reader starts frantically skimming, they may end up just skipping to The End.

Your “Novel” is a Thinly Veiled Memoir

Ugh! Wait. Can I say “ugh!” again? Your life experiences may mold what you write about. You may base characters off of true-life friends and acquaintances. You may base plot off of an occurrence in reality. But if that’s all you’ve got, you’re simply writing a lazy, egocentric snooze fest. As agent, Janet Reid, recently responded on her blog; “That’s the trouble with thinly veiled memoirs as novels: real life doesn’t provide much plot.”

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If you’ve covered the points above, and edited until you’ve bled, hopefully you’ll find your readers racing to the finish line instead of politely trudging onward. Grounding your reader in the story is important — you want your writing to be real in the sense that it’s believable and accessible even if it’s about a fictitious world thousands of light years away.

But remember, real and boring are not synonymous.

**********

Thanks to those who already read and/or commented on this post when it first appeared at The Red Dress Club in January — you have my permission to print it up and us it as a fly swatter.

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

25 thoughts on “Keep Your Writing Real — Not Really Boring”

  1. Wonderful post. The dialogue reminds me of the two vultures (three?) in Disney’s The Jungle Book–going back & forth, back & forth!

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  2. My two pet peeves: character sketches. I don’t want to know all that, let me find out for myself.

    And descriptions gone wild: I’m just too ADD for that.

    Let me discover on my own.

    MOST EXCELLENT post, sisterladyfriend.

    xo

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    1. Thanks, A! I don’t know if I’m too ADD, but I just have no patience to read twenty sentences on the beauty of the landscape. Let’s get to the action!

      Ok, that does sound ADD.

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  3. Ooo, the “veiled memoir.” Guilty. The first draft of the first novel I tried to write is full of me, disguised as some protagonist who looks, strangely enough, just like me. It’s only through severe rewrites that I’ve nixed much of my own traits and re-molded her into someone of her own accord.

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  4. Some writers think that in order to write realistic dialogue they have to “transcribe” what the characters are saying. Not true! I just read a quote from Alfred Hitchcock that a dialogue should be like life with the boring parts removed. 🙂

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  5. Bravo for a fabulous list. The dialog thing–I always get stuck there. I think it’s because I love, love, love to eavesdrop, so all conversations are interesting to me, and I love to relay them back. Are others so enthralled by my he said/she said recounts? No. No they aren’t.

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  6. It is kind of funny when you think about it: we’re supposed to make our fiction believable, but the dialogue shouldn’t be realistic. When we examine our conversations, they really are boring. And yet, we must not be too bored because we keep having boring conversations with one another…

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  7. Great post! It’s hard to see these faults when you’re in the thick of writing, isn’t it? That’s why I love the editing stages. It’s painful to see these things in my work, but I’m thankful I know enough to be able to spot them.

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  8. I’m painfully working through a story right now. I can’t tell if it’s boring only because I’ve read and re-read it about 10,000 times (it seemed interesting and engaging the first two times or so…), or if it’s really just a dull plot-line/story. I’m only a Sophmore in High School, but I take my work very, very seriously (alright, go ahead, laugh at me). And just to back it all up, my English teacher’s have said that they think I could grow up to make a living as an author. Yikes! I’m not so sure about that. 😥

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    1. I’m not laughing at all. In fact, I think it’s great that you’ve found something that you love to do, and that you do well. If you haven’t already checked it out, here’s a great site for teen authors http://www.writeonteens.blogspot.com/

      I know what you mean about reading your work so much, you can’t tell if it’s any good anymore. Maybe you can find a teen critique group at your school or library? Also, if you don’t already, let your stories rest a bit before you come back to them. Then you can see them with fresh eyes. Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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  9. “Real life doesn’t provide much plot.” So true! It’s great for gathering material, but, of course, has a decidely linear and uninteresting trajectory. Thanks for a bold and honest post! (I indulge in over-description on occasion, methinks 🙂

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