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Monday, January 31, 2011

Once Upon a *YAWN*

Courtesy of Just4You

A reader asked: "What makes a boring story?"

Books, like any art form, are extremely subjective. What bores one person, could be riveting to the next. And as authors, writing a boring book is one of the biggest--if not THE biggest--thing we want to avoid. Because if a reader perceives a book as boring, they might not only put the book down there, but might also avoid any of your books in the future.

So, how not to write a boring story?

There are three basic things I think that can go a long way toward minimizing the dreaded boring story: voice, giving your audience a sense of wonder, and being an evil author.

Defining voice is a lot like trying to describe the way salt tastes--without using the word salty--or telling someone what the color blue looks like, especially if they've never seen it before. But for me, voice is the soul of the story. It's the author's fingerprint, the words they choose, and the way they structure them. The ambiance and atmosphere of the story. It has been said that you can have an out of this world premise, but if you execute it badly, the premise will no longer matter, because the book will fall flat. On the other hand, you can have an ordinary premise, but if you execute it well, then you have the chance to go far. And I truly believe this. I've fallen in love with stories that lack Big! Exciting! Things! in them, but have an incredible voice that resonates with me and becomes a part of me long after the happily ever after. So, find your voice and continue to refine and strengthen it until it shines.

This is another salt and blue question in a lot of ways. What gives someone a sense of wonder? I believe that this sense of wonder can come from different places. It could be the setting, the voice, the premise. It can also be taking a reader's expectations and turning them inside out and upside down. Humor is often used this way. A scenario is presented, the reader expects something, and the writer gives them something else. (An example of this type of humor would be the movie The Emperor's New Groove.) Setting can be incredibly important to a story, and should definitely have a role, if not a personality of its own. This is why a lot of novels have exotic settings--especially if you go into the fantasy and science fiction genres. These are the genres of wonder. Paraphrasing a quote I've searched for and cannot find, fairy tales have golden apples to remind us of the way it felt when we experienced a regular apple for the first time. Bringing a sense of wonder into your novel can be an excellent hook that makes the reader want to keep reading.

This is perhaps the thing I love most about being an author--giving myself the chance to torture and torment my characters. One of the fastest ways to a boring book, in my opinion, is to go easy on your characters. Let them succeed over and over and over again. Let them get what they want without really paying much by way of a price. If the stakes are low or non-existent, I usually end up putting the book down. Because, after all, what's the point? I think, in a lot of ways, readers connect to the characters more and more as the story evolves, going from one try/fail cycle to the next and as the tension mounts up towards the climax of the story. Characterization is important, but even the most compelling characters would fall short of their potential if the story didn't stretch and pull them, testing their limits and making them grow. And you do that by making things hard for them. The thought sitting--well, actually crouching--at the back of my mind while I write is: what's the worst thing that could happen. And then I make it so. Now, this doesn't mean that every second of the story is heart pounding, breath stopping, bad things happening. Oh, no. >:) It's also a good idea to use those scenes where things are going all right for the moment and the characters are happy to build up for the fall that's coming later on. Think of it like building a tower of blocks. Knocking over a tower that's only 2-5 blocks tall is more of a fizzle than anything else. But knocking over one thats 50-100 blocks tall? Much more exciting to your visual and aural senses.

So there you have it. Three basic things that can help you avoid writing a boring story. Any other tips and suggestions?

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. 


Renae said...

As sad as it may sound, I love tormenting my characters. Whenever I feel my story is getting boring I try to think of the worst possible thing that could happen to them.

Amazing post...well done!

Claude Forthomme said...

Very good post and very useful suggestions...

Tormenting your characters to build in suspense is however only one aspect. I believe other "non-boring" things can be worked in, like...HUMOUR! That can be difficult but it is very effective in allaying boredom!

I just wrote a short, short story on my blog which I hope exemplifies what I mean. Here's the link: http://claudenougat.blogspot.com/2011/01/growing-old-short-story-about-it.html

Tell me what you think!

Deb Salisbury said...

Salt is the best analogy for voice I've seen: too little and it's bland, but with too much it get annoying or unreadable.

ali said...

With your help I shall avoid writing a boring story! Huzzah! (and thank you!)

Lynette Eklund said...

Someone once told me "voice" is the way the writer "talks" in a book and it's the one thing a writer can't change. I don't think that's exactly true.

I think a strong voice comes from a blend of the writer's imagination, the story and the characters. Maybe it would be better to say "voice is the one thing a writer cannot create by force.

lbdiamond said...

Great post! I LOVE your tips! :D