Friday, August 30, 2013

Is Your Writing Boring or Exciting? How to Engage Readers

If you write boringly, your reader will quickly become bored and quit reading. Death to your hard but less than stellar work. Advice from people like Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury tell us to write so the reader does not feel like his time is wasted. Write so that he or she is forced to stay up past bedtime to read just one more chapter. Write so that the reader cheers for at least one character and then write that character into all sorts of troubles and show how that character gets out of the trouble, learns from it or overcomes it. 

Write, then go back and highlight verbs in one color and nouns in another. Did you repeatedly use one or two words? "Brett found a great deal on a horse. He went to the store and chose great tack." Can you find a stronger word to replace an uninteresting one. "Bart decided he was going to learn to ride a horse" or "Bart challenged himself to learn to ride Big George."

Determine your target audience and write to one person in it. If you try to write to the world, 99% of the people will not like your writing, topic or story line and the other 1% will have trouble finding you. Narrow your prose to fit a certain demographic. Try picturing your ideal reader when you are writing. Where is he sitting, what level of education does she have, how is she going to react to what the main protagonist attempts? What would spark interest in a reader to continue reading? Something unsuspected? Something harmful to a character? A plot twist that juxtaposes common sense?
Know your characters down to their sock sizes. Outline a complete picture of what your characters look like, what they like to wear, where they shop, what do they do in their leisure time, their occupation and the clothes they need for it versus clothes for relaxing. Hair color of course but does she dye it? What kind of Stetson does he wear? You will not use most of the information that you envisioned but you will know your character and writing about him or her will be easier. 

Research and get to know the gun used to commit murder or understand what and how a the form of transportation was used in your 1817 novel. Was it a coach, carriage, palanquin, wagon, cart, surry or sedan chair? Did it have leather straps for support (The dry leather straps rubbed against each other creating further irritation for Melanie) or did it have elliptical or leaf springs (Melanie's irritation grew as the springs of the coach squeaked louder with each pot hole).

We all know the rule that a sentence must reveal something or advance the plot. If it doesn't, then delete the sentence as it is of no use. You know in your mind the picture you are trying to create but think objectively if you actually did the best job. Remember the game of two people facing each other with a divider between them; they cannot see each other. One person tells the other how to draw an object without naming the object. Your sentences should draw a picture that readers can imagine easily.

Several writers I know have complained because their editors forced them to reveal facts or introduce people before the writer wanted to. Give your readers as much information as possible quickly so they have an intimate understanding of what is going on and why. You develop tension by the events that you make happen to your characters not by keeping salient points from readers.
We learn that writers must read a variety of genres. Pick up your next book with an agenda in mind. Decide what you are going to look for in this author's writing. Is it how he introduces characters, how she describes emotions, why you believe that that the setting is in NewYork City in 1945? Remember when it was called New York City and not New York? When did it change and why? You should know it when you write about it. "Ethel traveled by train to New York City in 1945." "Kirsten flies to New York in 1999."

 We have stories to tell so let's apply what good writers teach us and hope we are as successful as Flannery O'Conner, Ernest Hemingway, Rex Stout and Stephen King.


Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Great advice here. I think sometimes boredom is in the eye of the beholder. One reader's evocative description is another reader's skip-worthy passage.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Very helpful advice. Good blog, Jennifer Rova ! & yes, Jenny Lamont Leo, I agree boredom & books , like beauty are in the eye of the beholder

Ana said...

Jennifer, excellent blog. Yes,I agree that sometimes boring is in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes pretty well everyone is bored with a book that does not move the plot forward or create any conflict. My husband and I like very different styles of writing but there are some books neither of us will continue reading.

Laura LeBon said...

This is a most helpful blog and fun to read! I've trained myself to write research papers and such but my true love is creative writing..

Jennifer Rova said...

Laura, thanks for the compliments on our blog. We are an eclectic group of writers with varying interests in writing and life. We enjoy sharing our thoughts and like learning from others' posts. Learning about writing is ongoing even for those who have had many books published and considered successful. Otherwise we all become stale and boring.

Jennifer Rova said...

I am reading a boring book now. It has way too much description of the scenes' physical elements and not enough action. The author smacks of bring a novice with a poor editor. Then I "skip read" or stop reading all together.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

This post contains very useful advice. Thank you.