Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Boring

I haven't been bored since puberty ... which is a heck of a lot of years. No matter what I'm doing, or who I'm doing it with, I can always keep myself amused. As each of my daughters passed through this phase of life, and as my oldest granddaughter begins it, the word boring found (and still finds) a home in a lot of conversations.

Okay, I admit it: I have little patience. Some would say I have NO patience. But still, I don't understand how it's possible to be bored for more than a few minutes. Once I find myself falling into a state of boredom I jump out of it. Of course, I always carry pens, pencils, pads, and index cards and they're a big part of why my handbag is so big. And why I always have a briefcase in my car. But that's another subject...

I spoke to a classroom of fourth graders about being a writer earlier this week and one of them asked me what I find boring about being a writer. I could honestly say I'm seldom bored.  And that's because most topics and people fascinate me. Over the years, I've performed tremendous amounts of research--both for my writing and about things that barely touched on it simply to satisfy my curiosity: graphology (handwriting analysis), the different branches of the Secret Service, how different states require criminal and sexual offenders to report, etc.

As a reader, on the other hand, I find myself bored more often than I do as a writer. And I believe this is something we need to keep in mind when we're writing. Of course, what interests us may not interest our readers. And while we may love long stretches of narrative description or detailed love scenes or pages of witty dialogue--not everyone else does.

Not that we should be writing to make other people happy but, if our goal is to publish works that elicit emotional responses from our readers or to create material they enjoy reading, we have to balance writing what we want with what readers want.

In no special order, here are some of the things that bore me as a reader (and cause me to skim over paragraphs, or even pages):
  • Love scenes that provide in minute detail what goes where. Dear Ms. Writer: I've had sex once or twice and know how the process works. Instead of giving me a biology lesson, share with me how the characters feel.
  • Too much repetition. Dear Bestseller: Yes, I know the protagonist has blue eyes. Or was abused as a child. Or wants to be a pilot when he grows up. But I don't have Alzheimer's--I remember what you told me. I find this especially boring when the repetition has to do with body parts, hair and eye color, height, etc. without also being directly and significantly tied to motivation or character growth.
  • Lack of personality. Dear Mr. Novelist: I know you're human. I know you have feelings and opinions. Why aren't you communicating them to me? From, Bored Reader.
  • More than a few errors in editing, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Dear Author/Publisher: I've read LOTS of good stuff that was published by small, independent presses or self-published authors. Those works were reviewed by editors and other professionals to help them improve the quality of their work before publishing. Cripes, even Stephen King and Nora Roberts run their work by editors before sending it off to the printer. Why didn't you? You should have.
What are some of the things you find boring when you read?


  1. Hey Linda - great "b" day!
    You've covered most of the things I get bored with when reading. I think also I find too much description rather wearing - especially more than half a page.

  2. Boring -- waiting in line until I got my NookColor, rainy days.

    I'm copying your list to keep by my side when I write as Mariella Morgan.

    MM the Queen of English
    A-Z challengee

  3. @Lauracea - I agree.

    @MM - Waiting in ANY line is boring. Glad you found my list to be useful.

  4. The repetition in a series is what does it for me. I love most of the Stephanie Plum books but how many times did JE tell the Steph/Morelli train story????

    Okay, speaking of Stephanie Plum, I'm going to add lack of growth as a character. I haven't been able to get into the last few books because the character never grows. She's still trying to decide between Morelli and Ranger and she can't sustain an adult relationship. Let her grow up all ready.

    BTW--good B selection ;)
    A-Z challenge

  5. I second all you say. There are too many books being published, self or otherwise, especially self, that have so many mechanical errors that keep me from wholly focusing on the sometimes very good story. And those details--blue eyes glancing at me, the heroine "tossing her blond hair," etc etc. Boring, boring.

    I also cringe if there are a lot of F and other such words. I think of the classics. Some tough characters, but a little bit of this goes a long way!

  6. This is hilarious, Linda. Do you know what I HEARD when I was reading your list? "Respect your reader--they're not idiots! In fact, they're probably as smart as you are." Must have had a writing prof drill that in my head. Thanks for a fun blog.

  7. I don't read love scenes either! The repetition thing is also boring, I totally agree, especially like eye color or how good looking somebody is!

  8. Margie - Good points. I absolute adore the Plum series and agree that Steph needs to make a decision. If you were her, who would you pick, Morelli or Ranger?

  9. @ Ann (and everyone else) - Thanks for agreeing with me ... I love when that happens.

    @Vanetta - Amazing how some people don't understand that respect needs to work both ways.

    @Miss - I like and read love scenes, so long as they don't read like instruction manuals.

  10. Hi, Linda,

    I'm making the rounds in the A-Z Challenge.

    Telling me the same facts in different words is one of the ways for a writer to lose me in the middle of a story. It's something I try to remember as I write. Trust the reader to remember and understand the stuff you've told him already.

  11. JL - Yes, as writers we need to trust our readers. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. Enjoyed the post very much. Can I use part of it for a blog for the Blood Red Pencil this month? I will link back to this post in the blog.

  13. Maryann - Glad you liked it. You may certain use any portion of the blog with a link back. Happy April!

  14. Long descriptions of setting bore me. I prefer to have the character(s) react to the setting somehow, not just read a list of all the fabrics and colors used on the living room furniture.

  15. Michelle, I couldn't agree more. I think a little bit of description, like saying the living room's color scheme is blue, gives the reader a direction but allows the reader the freedom to arrange the room (and its furniture) to his or her own personal preference.

  16. What's boring? Poorly written prose. Excessive description.

  17. Are WE boring because we all agree? Just wondering... :)

  18. Sometimes a good dose of boredom is just what the doctor prescribed.

    Matt Conlon dot com
    Matt's Brew Log

  19. "Filler" is boring. I recently finished a book that added folk lore between chapters. It related to the title of the book, but did not move the story in any way. I skipped it all. One of the worst books ever.

  20. Dawn, You're right! I haven't read any "filler" lately, but it (and, oftentimes, backstory) is boring as dirt.