Monday, December 6, 2010

If I skipped the boring bits, I'd skip 3/4s of the novel!

Writers are often admonished to "skip the boring bits." Readers might skim over long descriptive passages, or chunks of seemingly irrelevant backstory, so writers are encouraged to avoid writing anything they wouldn't want to read themselves.

I get this. If I'm spending three pages describing a character's bedroom, I'll stop myself.

However, I've come to realize over the past year that this piece of advice doesn't always work. For me, writing is a grueling, slow process. I'm chronicling thoughts, emotions. Even in an action sequence, I need to think through and write down each movement, much like an animator designing every single cell. At times, it can get boring.

But just because I'm bored, I don't think that means the scene is boring. Some of the most memorable scenes in literature aren't the action sequences, or the moment when everything changes. They're the quiet revelations, the laugh out loud character quirks, the satisfying conclusions.

Stories aren't a collection of exciting scenes with a few connector pieces thrown in. They're stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They have a character yearning for something, becoming upset, confronting obstacles, journeying... They're about growth and development. If a writer skips a part because it's boring, the story is in danger of losing its logic and heart.

As a writer, I find I'm on much firmer ground when I let a story unfold naturally, take me where it will, and write through all the bits I discover along the way. I can edit anything I need to later.

But perhaps this advice works for other writers. I might just be easily bored! Do you skip the boring bits?


  1. I noticed during revisions that I had a lot of scenes set during meals. (I heard somewhere that meals are considered one of the 'boring bits'.) My main characters are a werewolf pack, so they eat a lot to keep up energy levels and strength so they can complete the painful shapeshifting process. After a bit of thinking and cutting some of the meal scenes, I tweaked my plot to include a lot of the pivotal plot moments in the ones that were left.

    So I think once a 'boring' scene is tightened and has relevant plot information, it can't be considered boring anymore.

    Or maybe I just like writing about food too much. ;)

  2. I love your analogy of an animator designing cell by cell. No, I don't skip the boring bits. It's important to get everything out onto the page in the first draft. You're right, what doesn't propel the plot forward can always be edited out.

    I also agree that the most memorable scenes are the quieter ones. For me there's more depth of resonance. Actually, I get much more easily bored—or get to the state of bored more quickly—with action scenes, especially if they're overdone or if there are too many of them.

  3. Helen, I'm quite positive whoever called meals a "boring bit" wasn't envisaging a starving werewolf pack! =) In all seriousness, though, I think your advice is perfect. Boring scenes aren't boring if they include pivotal plot points. Plus, I seem to have a lot of food scenes too. =)

    By the way, I really enjoyed spying on the exciting conversation you were having with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Twitter this weekend. Go you!

    Andrea, I totally agree and I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this! I've noticed recently that a lot of big blockbuster movies have bored me to tears. They're nothing but action! It's the character development that has more resonance for me, too.

  4. I've been working on a fairy tale retelling for about a year and I've definitely had moments when I thought the whole thing was boring. So I put it aside for a month, and now that I've come back to it, I'm finding all sorts of things to cut. So I guess distance does help get rid of those boring parts, but that doesn't mean the story should be one long action scene!

  5. Thanks, Anna. What I'm taking away from these comments is that most of us write everything during the drafting phase. It's the revision phase that involves cutting boring bits. Distance definitely helps me realize what's contributing to the plot and what's not, too.

  6. I write it all when I'm working on a first draft. I specifically type my first drafts on my Alphasmart because I can only see about 4 lines of text at a time. It's about getting the words and the story on the page.

    If there's too much of something (eg. "boring bits") or not enough of something else, I figure that's what the revision process is for. I agree with Helen: "once a 'boring' scene is tightened and has relevant plot information, it can't be considered boring anymore."


  7. Anna makes a good point too about the story not being one long action scene. Slower sections are important for giving the reader a break from the tension of the story. I also think it depends on what kind of book you are writing - some stories are more introspective than others so they will have a different profile in terms of tension and quiet scenes.


  8. Elisabeth, I can see how the alpha smart would be really useful for drafting, and just getting down the story, in whatever form it takes.

    It probably depends on the definition of "boring". As you say, slower, more introspective stories will have different amounts of tension and quiet scenes.

  9. Hmmm interesting. I take a lot out in my second draft but I don't think I could skip writing the odd over descriptive passage in the first place. Generally when I've slipped into boring...ness its because I'm trying to work a part of the story out in my own head - the fact that I don't really know what the bedroom is like, that I don't really know enough about the profession the character has, their family history etc. I can pare it back, but only once its been established in my own mind which, for me, also means established on the page.

  10. That's exactly it, Anna! I think often we need to write that stuff to figure out our story in the first place.

    Y'all are making me feel so much better about my own writing process. Thanks! =)

  11. So far I've removed around 7000 words of boring from the ms. I'm revising.

    Just in case somebody, someday, wants me to put some of it back, I didn't delete it; I must pasted it into the book's Outtakes file. If nothing else, I'll have it for Special Features/Deleted Scenes (and Recipes) when I publish the Director's Cut version. (Stop me before I mix creative metaphors again...)

  12. Wow, that's a lot of words, Anne!

    I always fantasize that all those words won't be for waste, too. Director's Cut, what a great idea! Though I must say, sometimes I watch those "deleted scenes" and think they were deleted for a reason! =)


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