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.
“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.”
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