We love stories. We love the thrill of danger we get to experience without risk to ourselves, the anticipation of solving a mystery, the excitement of seeing a love story unfold.
We don’t necessarily love to read about our hero mowing the lawn or our heroine cleaning the house. Not unless there’s something else keeping it interesting.
Have you ever been bored by a paragraph or a page in a book you otherwise love, and you just want to get past that part quickly and on to the good stuff? Whenever I find such a part as I read through my own writing, I have at least three options:
Option one is simple. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, delete it.
We’ll spend more time on option two. If our boring part serves a purpose—for example, it helps the flow of the story, perhaps providing a buffer between two scenes with the exact same people, or it’s accompanied by something that does matter to the story—get creative and make it worth reading.
As an example, my heroine got caught in a hidden camera prank at the beginning of her story. Later that day, she cooks dinner to distract herself. While she cooks, her phone pings repeatedly. This is the part that matters to the story: her phone going off. She doesn’t know it yet, but her prank is already online and getting enough views that her friends have seen it and are messaging her about it. I use the cooking scene to give her something to do while we wonder why her phone goes off again and again.
When I read over the cooking part, it was boring. Since my heroine is trying to get over what happened, and since she’s a funny character, I decided to spice up this part with humor:
I commandeered the kitchen in an epic takeover, and the ingredients accepted me unanimously. The jumbo pasta shells softened in subservience at my touch (and with ten minutes of boiling), and the ground beef sizzled in awe of my presence before leaping into a bowl of flavored cheese in a demonstration of allegiance to me. My phone added its voice of admiration with occasional beeps and dings, but I ignored each notification while I stuffed the reverential shells.
When the pan was full of pasta, I opened the oven door and blinked.
No heat came out.
I slapped my forehead. “I forgot to turn on the oven.” As I set it to preheat, my phone beeped for the dozenth time since I’d started making dinner.
Entertained yet? This works for my character and her mood. If I want her to be angry instead, I can write something like this:
I bumped around in the kitchen, slamming down a pot on the stove, stabbing at the ground beef as it fried, and eyeing the boiling pasta shells with impatience. My phone beeped on the counter, but I ignored it and grabbed a glass pan, then shut the cupboard on my finger. With a yelp of pain, I spun to glare at my phone when it went off not once, not twice, but three times. Sheesh. What was its problem?
Never mind. I spooned my meat-mixture into the pasta shells, heedful of my throbbing finger and frowning as my phone sounded yet again.
What the what? Just who was trying to get hold of me?
Now as we read the above, instead of thinking, “[Yawn.] She’s cooking, something I do all the time,” we think, “Oh, she’s angry, and I’m feeling it, too.” We also wonder about her phone going off.
Humor and emotion are two of our best tools for making something worth reading. We could change the mood yet again to sad and could pepper our scene with slow movements and gloomy vocabulary, helping our reader get caught up in the emotions rather than sigh from boredom over the normal household chore.
As for option three, we may want to consider writing a different scene altogether that still gets the important part across (phone going off repeatedly). Try to brainstorm settings, maybe unusual ones that will be memorable. Could we have her out rock climbing when her friends start messaging her? Could she be at the beach or, for some reason, in a dark basement? Or we may decide to give her a setting that emphasizes her interests or personality. Since my character happens to be an artist, we could show her painting a portrait. Next, do we want any other characters in the scene? Are they in the middle of a funny/interesting/deep conversation, and how do they react to the insistent phone?
At this point, I’m going with option two of un-borifying my cooking scenario, but I can tell you that on the occasions I go with option three, it’s exhilarating to suddenly find myself with a cool new scene for a book I thought I had finished writing.
Enjoy your journey as you make every part of your book worth reading, and feel free to share any ideas of your own or to practice rewriting my scene or yours in different moods. I would love to see how you spice it up!