It would be very convenient if, when people pointed out parts of your story that weren’t very interesting, if you could just cut them out.
Snip-snip, and there you go, perfect book.
Unfortunately, you can’t always do that.
Those parts that are most likely to bore readers — backstory, long descriptions, exposition, info dumps, tangential subplots, world building — often serve an important function. If you just take them out, the story will probably still make sense, but it might feel a bit bland or simplistic.
While it’s pretty easy for people to spot sections of prose that aren’t very engaging, it isn’t so simple knowing what to do about it. Similarly, books on the craft will tell you what not to do, what to avoid, what readers don’t like; but what they are less likely to tell you is what to replace it with.
‘Mistakes’ have become so standardised that it can get to the point that as soon as the person reading detects you are slipping into erroneous writing they will immediately instruct you to remove it. Because 9 out of 10 agents cite it as their number one hate. Or that it is a well known fact that readers won't stand for it.
And you may well agree. So much so that you also become a zealot, and pass on this wisdom to other writers.
Certainly, when a section of prose is identified as boring, for whatever reason, the probability of that assessment being correct is very high. And the kinds of writing that are most likely to be considered boring are generally backstory, exposition, etc., etc. But make no mistake, all those elements are a necessary part of pretty much every story.
Here are some tips for how to make the necessary bits less painful:
Often the problem isn’t that you should get rid of the offending section, it may be that you just need to move it. Backstory at the start of a story is tedious. Halfway in when you love the character, it becomes precious insight.
Easily the most common time for dull writing to occur is when the character is on their own. Easily. Put the character somewhere else, somewhere with other people in it, and that can fix your problem like magic.
Trying to sort stuff out on the phone is easily the second most common time for dull writing to occur. Keep it to a minimum.
Short and quick will get you out of many bogged down situations. If you can convey the information you need to impart in concise fashion, nobody really cares whether it’s boring or not. You don’t have to find a mirror for your MC to look into in order to describe what they look like. If you mention they’re tall and ginger and get on with it, job done. Readers have read enough books to be able to roll with it.
Info-dump that tells you entertaining information isn’t info-dump. Readers like to learn things. Even if it’s made up nonsense. But bear in mind, telling people what they already know is never entertaining.
Exposition is a skill. Any pertinent piece of information can be conveyed to the reader without them realising it. In many different ways. But the easiest way — just having someone state it out loud for no particular reason — isn’t one of them.
Clunky exposition is often due to the writer trying to get everything across immediately. It’s not necessary to explain every angle all at once, especially if it’s a complicated situation. A little more time allows for emotions, personalities, desires and conversations to create a more natural environment for important details to emerge in.
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