“Don’t be boring.” It’s one of the critical parts of writing a book. Authors want to create a story so irresistible that readers will stay up way past their bedtime reading or completely ignore a pivotal football game moment in the marching band section because they were caught in a pivotal story passage.
Yes, I was that person. And I didn’t even realize it happened until the end-of-the-season band banquet, because apparently someone got a picture of the rest of the band standing up and cheering, while I…was very much not. Whoops!
One problem: pithy little statements like “don’t be boring” and the above quote from Elmore Leonard don’t help as much when it comes to staring at the page and pondering your next move, especially if you’ve lived with this manuscript for what feels like endless ages and you’re wondering “do I even like any of it anymore?”
Never fear! The good news is that there are ways to banish those boring parts.
The bad news? It’s not some easy checklist like “get rid of all the travel scenes” or “don’t open with (so and so forbidden scene opener).” You have the grace of being a uniquely gifted creative, which means you could very well have critical scenes that totally blow any set to-do list of no-nos out of the water.
Also, what bores one reader will totally enthrall another. What makes one reader say “buy this book NOW” makes another reader go “WHY did I buy this book?”
Here’s one thing you can control: hitting genre conventions. Yes, they do matter. It doesn’t mean conventions have to stifle your creative muse, but they sure as anything help your readership figure out what you’re offering and if they want to buy it.
Consider your story like an ice cream flavor. You can throw all kinds of things into the chocolate, but leave in the cocoa, because in the end, it’s still gotta taste recognizably like chocolate (the “white chocolate” debate will happen another time).
So make sure that your romance tastes like romance with complex characters and internal emotional tension (according to your subgenre), your science fiction tastes like science fiction with world-building and compelling concepts (according to subgenre), etc. If you’re going for a chocolate-vanilla twist, aka, a genre mash-up, then make sure you deliver both genres equally.
It goes without saying that you should find beta readers who are familiar with your genre. A good set of reader-response criticism from beta readers will be invaluable in figuring out what drags in your story, because they will know what to expect. Take every bit of reader-response with a grain (or ton) of salt, but to take it.
Along with this? A good editor with a manuscript concept review or full edit can help identify down those problem spots and make your story shine (yes, I do that here).
Of course, even within genres you’ll find a variety of fans with their preferences and their boredom triggers. This could happen even with hitting the conventions, having awesome beta readers, and investing in top-notch editing.
You have one more trick in your arsenal: be you. And not just you. Be the strongest, most interesting, most potent you on paper.
Narrative – Work on getting that great story. Hit the genre tropes in unique ways that make you stand out. A lot of readers will push through boring (to them) parts if they’re hooked on the story and gotta see how it ends.
Voice – There are some authors whose voices are so irresistible that I will follow them to (almost) any genre. It doesn’t matter what they write. HOW they write it is half the journey, and it’s a journey I’ll gladly take as long as they keep up the great wordage.
Note: half of what makes this work is having a versatile author voice and choosing compatible subgenres to cross-over into. Using an intensely lyrical voice for a fast-paced thriller isn’t advised.
Characters – Ever kept reading a book purely for a hilarious character, a buddy-friendship that you just can’t miss, or a ‘ship that you just gotta follow? Make that work for you. Invest in unforgettable characters as much as possible.
Identifying and eliminating the boring parts in a story isn’t a matter of following a checklist. The key to identifying those dull areas is a matter of understanding the genre conventions of your story, judicious use of beta reader and editor feedback, and creating the most intriguing narrative, voice, and characters you can.