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The Boring Parts of a Novel

Posted by CreateSpaceResources on Sep 25, 2013 5:59:26 AM

In a story, you have a Point A and a Point B. These two points are payoff moments that send your story in a certain direction and rock your readers' worlds. They're the parts everyone will be talking about. As a writer, you feel especially proud about the development of these two points in your story. They came out perfectly. But what about the other stuff, the part of your story that got you from point A to point B?

 

Elmore Leonard famously called these the "boring parts," and he handled them by not handling them. He left them out of his story. Now, his genre, the crime novel, allowed for that kind of tactic. There isn't a lot of minutiae in crime novels. The tone calls for a fast pace that allows the readers to fill in a lot of the unsaid action. How a character gets from the elevator to the front door of his apartment isn't necessary to write unless something of note is revealed about the plot in that short trip. 

 

Even if you aren't a crime novelist, there's a lesson here: if you include minutiae, make it count. Be sure it reveals something about the characters, plot or setting. Personally, I don't object to the "boring parts" as long as they are written well. Those parts can help readers become immersed in the story. A good writer can sneak them in without the reader noticing. The more I know about how a character traverses a hallway, the greater the chance I may find myself walking down the hallway with him.

 

I understand I might be in the minority. We live in an abbreviated world where things are said in 140 characters and the number 8 is used to spell words like "gr8," so the "boring parts" of a novel may be relics of a bygone age of storytelling. Readers have a growing expectation for writers to get to the point. I think there can be a compromise: eliminate those parts if you find they're slowing your story down, but don't cut them for the sake of cutting them. Leave them in if that's what your writer's heart tells you.

 

How about you? How do you handle the "boring parts" of a novel?

 

-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

 

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Sep 25, 2013 9:50 AM DougBrunell    says:

Well, by not making them boring.  There should be nothing in the story that doesn't serve the story, that doesn't offer something new.  These can be plot points or characterization.  Boring doesn't belong in a novel, period.

 

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Sep 25, 2013 12:04 PM Siduri    says:

This is actually something I'm struggling with.  I have a main character whose crowning achievement--killing an evil dragon--comes fairly early in the narrative when he's 16. (He dies at about 40)  For quite a while after that, he spends time alone, wandering.  I try to give descriptive detail that not only sets a mood, but has bearing on his character development, but that only goes so far.  I introduce other characters, but the question remains:  You've done your great deed, now what kind of man will you be?

Nov 19, 2013 1:53 PM RMOSmith    says:

This is something that I'm working on, too.  I have two very different books in the works.  In one, the main character is not quite immortal, but he would almost seem so to us.  He is reminiscing about his life as he is now dying, as much from not being able to adapt to modern life as to reaching the end of his cycle.  Well, in 7,000 years there's a lot of 'boring parts.'  I don't want to just jump hundreds of years from one event to another, but I don't want to stretch his story out over 20 books just to fill in pages and pages of description for every character and setting.  So that's about balancing a rich enough story to get the reader immersed without having to subject them to every single day of the character's life, or making it seem like the character just goes from one adventure or crisis to another without having a daily life.  He may end up getting more than one book, but only if I find enough to his story to make it worth it.

 

In the other, there is a character loosely based on myself and events that I've experienced, set within a completely fictional story.  There's a series of events when she's a child/teen, and they relate unexpectedly to a life-changing revelation when she's older.  So with that, the challenge is to fill in the 20-year gap to show the growth that she goes through and brings her full circle to that moment and how she deals with it, without turning it into a diary where the only excitement is at the beginning and end, and without making it resemble real people or events too closely.  Even though I'm working more on the other one at the moment, I'll probably end up finishing this first because I don't need to do as much research.

Nov 21, 2013 1:35 AM geke    says:

I agree that everything in the story should be functional, but that doesn't mean it should be part of the plot. Descriptions can help the timing and rhythm. The main point, I think, is that every word brings the end of the story closer or puts it further away, whatever is needed. I'm not a writer myself, so I just quote the beginning of P.G. Wodehouse's "A Damsel in Distress" (from the Gutenberg Project) which I admire greatly for just this quality of making the most of every single word:

 

Inasmuch as the scene of this story is that historic pile, Belpher
Castle, in the county of Hampshire, it would be an agreeable task
to open it with a leisurely description of the place, followed by
some notes on the history of the Earls of Marshmoreton, who have
owned it since the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, in these days
of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must
leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would
employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with
the smooth swiftness of a jack-rabbit surprised while lunching.
Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.

I may briefly remark that the present Lord Marshmoreton is a
widower of some forty-eight years: that he has two children--a son,
Percy Wilbraham Marsh, Lord Belpher, who is on the brink of his
twenty-first birthday, and a daughter, Lady Patricia Maud Marsh,
who is just twenty: that the chatelaine of the castle is Lady
Caroline Byng, Lord Marshmoreton's sister, who married the very
wealthy colliery owner, Clifford Byng, a few years before his death
(which unkind people say she hastened): and that she has a
step-son, Reginald. Give me time to mention these few facts and I
am done. On the glorious past of the Marshmoretons I will not even
touch.

Luckily, the loss to literature is not irreparable. Lord
Marshmoreton himself is engaged upon a history of the family, which
will doubtless be on every bookshelf as soon as his lordship gets
it finished. And, as for the castle and its surroundings, including
the model dairy and the amber drawing-room, you may see them for
yourself any Thursday, when Belpher is thrown open to the public on
payment of a fee of one shilling a head. The money is collected by
Keggs the butler, and goes to a worthy local charity. At least,
that is the idea. But the voice of calumny is never silent, and
there exists a school of thought, headed by Albert, the page-boy,
which holds that Keggs sticks to these shillings like glue, and
adds them to his already considerable savings in the Farmers' and
Merchants' Bank, on the left side of the High Street in Belpher
village, next door to the Oddfellows' Hall.
Nov 21, 2013 2:13 AM geke    says in response to RMOSmith:

I have an idea for the second book: you can show her development indirectly, by describing a few moments from those twenty years in a way that shows her growth or change. These moments could be a repeating event, for example something obvious like her birthday, or simply several instances of a minister preaching on a Sunday and her thoughts while hearing it. The difference from one to the next--or the non-change outwardly coupled with her different reaction--would give a feeling of her growth in a better way than when you point at it yourself in a direct way like this: "But this year, she could not hear it without bitterness."

 

For the "7000-year book" you could use subplots, e.g. events from history viewed upon in an unexpected way, namely from your character's perspective--which may be uneducated, biased, incomplete, or simply wrong by modern standards. On the other hand, I wonder if you're clear about what's in it for the reader to witness your character looking back on his life? The answer to that question will help you decide what should be in the story.

Jan 6, 2014 11:28 AM RMLJRL    says:

Hello Mr. Ridley ~

 

I just wanted to say, if you're in the minority, you're not alone ~ I'm right there with you ~ blissfully submerged in those "relics of a bygone age of storytelling."

 

Rebecca Longster

Apr 29, 2015 2:16 PM Hahn11    says:

You use imagery. "The rain fell just soft enough to bring back a child hood

Memory. Water soaked window panes, lost and found memories that still

Remain. Show me a life void of despair and I'll tell of a love; one with which

You may compare. Seasons of dry leaves and hills of snow, curved dirt roads

And valleys laid low. Water soaked windows are my concerns today for they

Distort the reasons you left me this way".  CWP. ~ 

Jun 8, 2017 2:03 AM Norman_Fledglings    says:

I love writing the boring bits, they add texture and depth to the rest of the story and I find that they not only help to illustrate the surroundings but also add layers to the characters. One of the most enjoyable passages that I wrote in my first novel was to give the reader an insight into just how different toilets used to be before the flush version was invented: an old bloke I knew once told me of a prank he had seen that you just can’t do with any other type of toilet, and I included that episode into the narrative of my book. I also did some snail racing in another chapter (how much more boring can you get?!) to highlight the stretches of inactivity that soldiers in a combat zone experience and how they deal with it. Those kinds of things may not be necessary to the narrative, but they do enrich it in so many ways.    

Dec 9, 2017 4:06 AM Dolphin27    says:

What someone else considers boring may not be boring to everyone else. That kind of has a lot to do with the reader, and how they interpert what? They're reading, and if they judge something without really reading... That's wrong!!!