I’m writing this as a series. When it’s done I’ll compile it, clean it up and put it up for download in a few formats, for something like $3.99. Might throw it on Amazon, too, if it looks worth it. Needless to say if you want to hit the donate button instead, and make a note on the paypal field
that it’s for May You Write Interesting Books, I’ll send you a copy when cleaned/compiled. Oh, btw, I’ll also be taking suggestions for other seminars on writing. I’ve considered doing something like a “self directed workshop” with suggested exercises you can do on your own or with your writing group.
This is prompted by a lot of my acquaintances who are beginning writers telling me the most common comment (or feared comment) on their writing is that it is boring.
I’ve been hesitant to do any series on writing, because I’ve realized half of the how-to-write books on my shelf are obsolete. They were designed to guide a beginner into the safe harbor of a publishing establishment that no longer exists.
I’m not saying traditional publishing will go away, mind you. I don’t think it will, though undoubtedly a lot of houses will. I’m saying that it will go away in any form we understand and particularly in any form understood five/ten years ago when these books were written.
I don’t know what the entry ritual into traditional publishing will be in the future, but I doubt it will have anything to do with running the gauntlet of slush at a publishing house (which hasn’t existed in most of them for decades) or agency that marked the passage from newby to pro in my day. Since a lot of those books had to do with getting past the prejudices and foibles of first readers or the editors who supervised them. And that has all gone away as if it had never been, burned up before our eyes, leaving us with a new Earth and a new Heaven.
Poetic language aside, I realized being boring is still a cardinal sin. Whether you’re trying to convince an editorial house that you’re the next coming of J. K. Rowling, or throwing your story on Amazon for the reading public to buy – or not – if your readers collapse in a heap of snores by paragraph two, you’re not going to make a sale. And if your readers come to the end of your story and say “that’s all very well, but” you’ll either not make a traditional sale or you’ll find that the readers don’t go to Amazon and search frantically for your next offering. Both are bad.
So, we’ll start by defining boring, shall we. There are at least three types of boring when it comes to books (there are probably many more but for the purposes of this seminar, we’ll go with three) all of which have different cures. I’ll define the different kinds of boring, then the cures. Then I’ll take them in order one by one. This is as much for your benefit as for mine, as I’m writing this the week before Christmas and am unlikely to keep any sort of structure in this if I don’t do so.
Diagnosis – Stone Cold Boring – this work is so boring that you’d chew your limb to get away from it. By the third paragraph, you feel if you’re forced to keep reading it, you’re going to collapse and sleep like Sleeping Beauty for a hundred years or so, until revived with the kiss of a good thriller.
Reason for the affliction – most of the time this is just not knowing how to start a book. You have all this information and proceed as though you were teaching elementary subjects to a class of slow children. You can practically hear the pencils scratching on paper and smell that school room smell. (Or the planners opening at a business meeting.)
Treatment – Start elsewhere, learn to Heinlein details, flashbacks are your friends, don’t be afraid to show yourself. [I’ll take on HOW to do these starting tomorrow.]
2- Diagnosis – The Boring Is In The Middle
This is a book that starts promisingly, and you’re going along fine, and then you hit the middle. If you’re a reader, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is the point at which you remember you forgot to call your dentist. Or that you really should put a new load of laundry in. Or even that perhaps you should start cooking. The book gets put down, face down, open, so you can return to it easily. (Don’t do this if you own a kindle.) Only you never do. Three days later, when you’ve started reading another book, you come across this and frown distractedly, before closing it and putting it in the donation box.
Reason for the affliction – usually I call this “something happenitis.” It come from three reasons. Either you didn’t plot well enough that the events in the middle are inevitable; you plotted well enough but you shoved all the character development/slower bits to the middle; you seriously overextended the story trying to meet some imaginary length “requirement.”
Treatment – learn to plot (yes, I’ll explain); hot it up (make your slower bits more interesting. And yes, I’ll still explain.); write it the length it needs to be (I’ll explain this as far as I can. But some of it is learning to feel how long is long enough.)
3- Diagnosis – It Is ONLY Mostly Boring
This is a book you read cover to cover, but when you put it down you go “well, that’s nice.” You don’t go “Uh, this rocked my world.” You don’t even go “this was good enough I want to read the next one.” No. You just go “this was painless. I can live with it.” Which means that you will NOT look for the next book by the author. Particularly in the new market place this can be death on sales. In fact, you might not remember the author’s name even if you are at lose ends and want to look for it.
Reason for the affliction – There are at least three reasons for this. One, you’re writing someone else’s book (by which I don’t mean you’re a plagiarist, but only that you’re not that interested in this book. It’s not your hot subject/character/topic/plot.) something that’s quite common when trying to break into the traditionals. You’ve been told books of “x” type sell and you’re trying your best to write that book. But your heart isn’t in it. It can be quite competent, mind, but blah. (Not that writing to order is always that. I pretty much got told to write the refinishing mysteries. I just made them mine.) Two, you like the genre so much and took so many elements from it that your book should be packaged in a white container with a barcode and sold as generic. Three, the topic, character, subject, plot are so intensely yours and cut so much to your heart you’re protecting yourself by not putting it on the page. (I spent years doing this and The Brave And The Free was shelved until I could take enough of a deep breath to get into it again, which I’m doing now in my copious spare time.) A variant of three, of course of course, you think it’s obvious so it’s mostly in your head.
Treatment – One -There must be fifty ways to leave that book, and write what you want to. (More about that, which will imply going into the new new market again. Two – make it yours. Come up with an interesting twist. Yes, I’ll explain this. Three – Open a vein and bleed on the page. I’ll explain psychological tricks to do this. Variant – how to determine if it’s too much in your head, and what to do about it. (This necessitates a trusted helper, usually, unfortunately.)
I shall pick the topic up again tomorrow.