Limyaael (limyaael) wrote,
Limyaael
limyaael

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Ten things to do when you've gotten bored with your novel

This one won by a huge margin, by which I conclude that a) a lot of people have gotten bored with their novels in the past, b) a lot of people think they might get bored with their novels now or in the future, or c) a lot of people want to be pointlessly entertained.



This has happened to me plenty of times in the past. Usually, the cause is that I have a shiny new idea and want to play with the shiny new idea, even if it’s only worldbuilding, rather than write the novel I’m writing now, which suddenly seems like the most boring and pedestrian idea on the planet, gods why did I think I could write this and make it interesting? But since “a finished rough draft is worth a dozen brilliant beginnings,” I keep slogging, and most of the time it picks up.

Here are some suggestions to make the slogging more pleasant or entertaining. (Remember, none of them will work all the time, and none of them will work for everyone).

1) Pick up the dropped plot threads. You know the intriguing, not fully explained scene you wrote in near the beginning of the novel because it’s going to matter two-thirds of the way through? Well, you’re a third of the way through, and you’re bored. Time to bring in that intriguing subplot.

“But it will screw up my chronology!” Then write it out of order. If you have a religiously outlined plot and chronology, you can do that, and put the scenes in their proper order later.

“But I wasn’t ready to have the protagonist know this information/meet this person yet!” Try it anyway. I’ve often had surprisingly good results when I switch from the suspense of keeping the secret, well, secret to seeing what the protagonist does when she knows about it. And sometimes the secret would be obvious and not worth keeping, so it’s better to have it out in the open where you can watch the fireworks happen.

“But that subplot has to combine with the main plot at Point B, not Point A!” Why? Ask yourself that, and if you don’t have a really good reason, scrap the so-so reason and entwine them now. Perhaps you’re bored because the main plot is running all by itself right now and has no subplots to spice it up.

I’m highly prejudiced in favor of this one, so it gets the number one slot. I prefer it when stories start changing from the way I think they’re going to go. It’s living things that change and breathe and move. It’s dead things that can be dissected.

2) Grow a new antagonist/secondary character. Your protagonist is currently riding through the countryside with his mentor. You want to show the journey, because the countryside will later be the setting of the final battle and it’s important that readers know what it looks like and become familiar with its symbolic significance. On the other hand, nothing happens on the journey other than, well, journeying, and so there’s no good reason not to condense it and do a few paragraphs of descriptive flashback later. Just journeying is also boring to write.

Put someone in the middle of the countryside. Perhaps someone leaps out and attacks the protagonist and his mentor, or they find someone injured who snaps and snarls at them not to come near, or someone comes to aid them in the middle of the battle. Or even a big group of someones could show up. If the protagonist and his mentor have chosen an isolated stretch of land that the Secret Church of the Black Evil Snake Demon has also chosen to conduct their power-raising ritual, because no one would disturb them there, what’s going to happen when the protagonist and his mentor stumble into the SCotBESD’s camp?

What’s the reason? There has to be a reason this new person or group is there. Of course there is. You grow the reason. Your imagination handed you this person or this group of people. It can damn well hand you the reason, too.

This can liven things up for authors who enjoy writing dialogue and character action/interaction and who currently find themselves stuck in the middle of long paragraphs of description and exposition. There will need to be description and exposition in the end, still, but they can be damn well be livened up along the way.

3) Choose the part of writing you like most and focus on it. This is where you get technical and analytical and step back from the story for a moment. Stop thinking of it as a mass of character and setting and plot. Start thinking of it as a mass of description, dialogue, exposition, narration, action, sex scenes, character introductions, cryptic scenes to be explained later, transition scenes, and so on.

Which do you like writing the most? (For me, it’s action and scenes where reality slaps the characters. I also like writing big honking metaphysical revelations, but those don’t happen as often). Construct a scene that hinges around that kind of writing. You’ll enjoy it, and so you’ll write it better. The audience will feel the enjoyment and often like it better, in the end. I can usually tell what parts of the book the author was on fire with and which parts made him or her yawn. My tastes may be different, but a well-written, fired part of the story can still catch me even so.

No, a book can’t be all sex scenes, even if that’s what you like to write the most. But you can combine this with point 2, so that stretches which would otherwise serve only one purpose begin to serve more than one. Mingle the kinds of writing and blend them, even in the same paragraph or sentence, and pour as much energy as you can into the parts of writing you love. That energy will often spill over onto the parts you don’t like as much and make them shine.

4) Reevaluate the scene’s/chapter’s purpose. In case you haven’t had enough analysis yet, here’s an even more distant step back. It might work best if you have an outline, though not if the outline is only a summary of events. Sit down and work it out, in writing of its own if necessary: What do you hope to accomplish with this part of the book? I’m not talking about vague things like “explicate more of the book’s theme” or “move the plot forward.” If you do write those things down, detail exactly how the scene/chapter will explicate or move them. More than that, though, think of this part that’s boring you as a discrete entity. Know why it’s around to bore you in the first place.

Then ask yourself if the writing you’re doing really accomplishes that purpose. If not, you might have an answer to your boredom right there, and you’ll need to move in the direction of that purpose instead of stepping away from it or meandering vaguely around it. If the writing does achieve it, then perhaps the purpose bores you. You can change the scene/chapter, or cut the bloody thing out of the book altogether. Maybe it’s convenient, but not necessary. (I’ve seen a lot of scenes/chapters like that).

5) Shock... This is the modified version of Murphy’s Law. Don’t ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to my characters?” There are plenty of answers that won’t fit with the book and will seem to come out of left field. Your character might have a morbid fear of drowning and wear heavy armor, but if he’s currently rappelling up a cliff face with the wind howling around him and his armor in his pack, it’s going to be tough to get him into both armor and water.

Instead, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to my characters in this situation?” In the cliff face answer, it might be the rope parting and all of them falling to their deaths. So, okay, modify it further: What is the worst that can happen and still leave them alive to enjoy suffer the consequences? Perhaps they lose their food pack. Perhaps they lose a party member. Perhaps they lose the precious sword they risked their lives to come to the high and deadly mountain in the first place in order to get. By the time that you’ve described the loss, described the overwhelming feelings of shock and anger and “SHIT!” that your characters have, the plot can be back on track, or have taken an entirely new direction.

Yes, this can still cause problems, obviously. But here’s something I firmly believe: Most readers are a lot more willing to let the author get away with nasty surprises in the middle of a story than pleasant or wholly beneficial ones. This chance increases if the author makes the nastiness come from something natural, like a rope scraping over a sharp rock and parting. So do try it, before you try having the characters find a magical ring of fire under the snow.

6) …and awe. These moments are harder to define, because there are fewer of them in the typical novel, fantasy or not, than moments of shock or humor or even joy. These are moments that spring forward and leave the plot spinning in a new direction because the characters are hungry for the sense of mystery they leave behind. They can be revelations, but they don’t have to be.

You know your character’s worst fear, his deepest desire, his favorite color. Now imagine what is the deepest beauty to him, the thing that will make him give up everything in order to pursue it, the thing that will fit in your world and your plot, and put it in his path.

Here’s where fantasy novels do have a distinct advantage, because a fondness for description and narrative passion are native to many of its authors, and they’re often invoking things that most of its readers have never seen. Put the moments of awe to good use. Pull yourself, the characters, and the story forward, and you may well yank the reader right along.

7) Change the character focus of the scene. This will often mean changing action and description and conversations, too, but so? If you’re bored with it, scrape the lackluster prose into the trash and see what happens when someone new takes center stage.

You’re writing about a duel to the death and you’re putting the main character in danger? Imagine what happens if his friend is the one in danger instead. If you keep the same viewpoint character, the whole scene will be infused with a different emotion, probably a more suspenseful one. Imagine what happens if a secondary character is the one who learns or gives a revelation, who turns out to be the force behind playing one of the other secondary characters for a traitor instead of that one just being a traitor all by himself, who falls dying in a battle when he would have lived otherwise. The tenor of the scene hurtles in a new direction, and it forces you to make a whole different set of assumptions.

I mention “secondary character” all throughout the previous paragraph because, usually, the protagonist is the character to whom all the most exciting things happen—the author’s chosen him as main character because he’s the center of the action, or she’s made all the exciting things happen to him because she created him and loves him. Also, shoving the protagonist away from the center of a scene where he’s been expecting to play the center will lead to yet another different complex of emotions, with jealousy and resentment and shock perhaps among them. Do it well enough, especially by planting clues backwards along the timeline when you revise, and this won’t seem to be a cheating of the readers’ expectations. It might well seem to be a cheating of the protagonist’s expectations, but then, you haven’t equated them with objective reality, have you? (Please say you didn’t).

8) Change the accepted axiom of the scene. A lot of fantasy scenes are included for very specific purposes that unite plot and theme—the scene where the protagonist learns of his true heritage, the scene where the protagonist acquires vengeance or another motive for fighting the villain, the explanation of the world’s metaphysics and magical system, the persuasion of a small group of people to fight on the protagonist’s side, the declaration of true love, and so on. Perhaps you can’t change the character focus or the event itself because it would rip apart the whole book, but you can change the lesson, the axiom, that the scene is set to prove.

That scene of true love? Usually, it’s joyous and triumphant, with the unspoken “Love conquers all” message hovering behind it. Imagine instead that the protagonist makes the declaration in absolute bitterness or melancholy. Imagine that the scene is told from such a viewpoint as to make clear how maddening love is, and what crimes it usually drives its possessor on to commit. The adjective choices, the characters’ thoughts—as opposed to spoken words—and the shortness or length of the event can change the entire theme.

I also prefer this one for personal reasons. I often find boredom instead of comfort from axioms repeated so often that I know them in my sleep, from dialogue worn familiar through repetition, from scenes preceded by clues like “He knew that he wanted to touch her, but he didn’t know why.” Perhaps the events and the dialogue really can’t change. The lessons can. The people and the world those events are taking place in may be such that it casts them into a bitterly ironic, a quietly perceptive, or a sweetly joyous light, instead of the accepted one. And it can fire a bored author who feels that he has to have a love scene, but really doesn’t want to write it, with the challenge of making the scene appear one thing on the surface when it’s really another underneath.

9) Interrupt the scene. I think a lot of scenes go on too long anyway. Twenty pages of exposition? Fifty pages of a firestorm? One hundred pages of a siege? Jesus Christ.

You can have characters interrupt a droning speech with questions, gestures, and so on. This is the same principle on a larger scale. Can you interrupt the boredom with a chapter ending? A scene transition? A switch of viewpoint character? A cryptic remark from the omniscient narrator that the reader starts puzzling over and which changes the mood of the rest of the scene? A reaction from a character that cuts short whatever was about to happen, because he decides to escape the besieged city and fight another day instead of staying to die? The interruptions don’t always have to change the plot completely—perhaps the character gets caught as he’s trying to escape and shamed in front of the entire city—but they’ll break up monotony that you might have struggled through for days or weeks.

10) Slog. Not every word you write will sparkle. Not every corner you turn is perfect. Some scenes and chapters are necessary, but consumed with something that you hate writing, like telling, or introductions, or flashbacks. Yet you’ve thought it through, and you can’t do it any other way. And, for whatever reason, just skipping the scene or cutting it or changing it or going to write another part of the book for right now won’t work.

Put your head down and slog through it. You might hate it, but if it has to be done, then putting it off will only increase the difficulty.

You can come back and revise it later. You can always come back and revise it later. Perhaps you’ll have a great idea for improving it the moment you finish it, and can start the revisions then. Or you might finish the book, realize that that part really doesn’t need to be there in light of the whole, and joyously rip it out.

Having fun with writing is a wonderful thing, and there are thousands of ways to make it more fun. But when you’ve honestly tried every other road and the only one lies through mud, walk through the mud. By this point, you’ve probably already thought about quitting the book, and decided that’s not an option, too. So, walk. If nothing else, it will build up discipline, and increase your ability to write without “inspiration.” (I tread on barbed wire around that word. Too often it mystifies the writing process, and makes everything but actually writing okay).



Sociopaths are next.
Tags: fantasy rants: summer 2005, idea rants
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