Writing Excuses Season Two Episode 10: The Boring Parts
Key points: Write the exciting parts first, then figure out what led to that. Why is this character suffering? Find the most pain. Shake it up — change point of view, change setting, add a wrinkle, add an interesting side character. And look for the conflict.
[Brandon] We’re going to talk today — this is a question I receive a lot from readers and listeners who want to know how we write the boring parts. When they say that, what they’re meaning is they plot out their story — they’ve got these big exciting climaxes several places through the book, and then they say, “Wait a minute, how do I get between these parts?” How do you write the in-between parts? Dan, what do you do?
[Dan] What do I do? I try to find the most interesting thing that can happen. I’m currently in the middle of writing book three and today was the fourth chapter in a row that I’ve had to cut in half because they were way too long…
[Brandon] Okay. That means lots of interesting stuff is happening.
[Dan] That means lots of interesting stuff is happening and they were all supposed to be the boring parts. It was supposed to be the main character trying to figure out the crime, trying to track down the bad guy, and just letting him really run free with, you know, he needs to think this — well, what would prompt that thought? What would give him this clue? — sparked so many other ideas… if I just let it be the boring part of one scene of a guy saying, “Well, his head was cut off… and the guy probably had a knife…”
[Brandon] Let’s get through the boring part. Howard?
[Brandon] I didn’t mean it like it sounded, Howard.
[Howard] No, that was fine, that was fine. You were cutting Dan off, not [garbled]
[Howard] When you say the boring parts, I look at boring in two ways. If I’m reading a book and I hit a boring part, someone spent time writing something they shouldn’t have. It just shouldn’t be there. If you wrote something and it is boring to write and to read, just stop writing it. That’s the easiest way to take care of it. Now if it’s boring work for you because you haven’t yet gotten to that really exciting part of the story that you want to tell, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to skip ahead to the exciting part of the story — write that bit, and then look at it very closely and figure out, okay, what are the elements here that I absolutely have to put in place before I can tell that bit, and how am I going to try to write those, and you backpedal and write the chapter that goes in between them, and write it is interestingly as possible.
[Brandon] Okay, but that’s what we’re getting to, is the “interestingly as possible” I think escapes a lot of newer writers. Those are words we can say. What they’re asking is, what is that, “interestingly as possible.” If I just skip through and write the exciting parts, I’ve got a 10,000 word story. I want to write a novel. How do you do that in-between parts? Dave?
[Howard] I just draw pictures.
[Undetermined] You can’t draw those kinds of pictures.
[Dave] The first thing that I do is, I look at my characters — there’s a bunch of different answers — first thing I do is, okay, how can I write this interesting? Second thing is, I look at my characters and I say, “Okay, which one of these characters is in the most pain? Which is suffering the most at this point?” Which is what Orson Scott Card recommends. He says, “Hey, your viewpoint characters should be the one who is in the most pain, the one who’s suffering the most.” So I look at that character and I say why is that person suffering and as soon as I start discussing that, I’m writing about something that is interesting. Very often, if you’ve got a climactic scene for example if you know you’re going to be 40 pages or 100 pages till the next climactic scene, you’ve kind of got to wind down on what just happened so your characters need to be haunted by what happened. They’ve also got to be formulating plans about how to react to what they’re going to do. They’ve got to choose how they are going to react. Are we going to storm the castle? Are we going to flee for our lives? Are we going to stand here like frightened rabbits with our hearts hammering while the enemy comes upon us? You have to make all these different choices. So it’s getting into the character’s heads, into their emotions, into their hearts. That’s what I end up doing.
[Howard] But you’re talking writing — or you’re describing this from the perspective of writing third person limited or maybe third person omniscient, but from a third person point of view. If you’re writing first-person, like I think Dan is…
[Dave] It’s much harder. My first novel was a first-person novel and I did it. And then afterwards, I said well I’ll try a third person now. And then afterwards I said I’m never going to write a first-person again.
[Howard] So is this find-the-most-pain principle the reason most first-person novels tend to be so horribly angsty?
[Dave] It is, because otherwise you’re boring.
[Brandon] You have to have a character who can carry an entire book. This is honestly why I love third person limited is because when the scene gets boring one of the first things I do, one of my fallbacks is different viewpoint character. This doesn’t necessarily… I don’t necessarily do the look for the most pains… I look and say, “Who’s going to be really interesting for a couple of scenes?”
[Howard] Who’s got the best part of the story right now?
[Brandon] That’s right that would just keep me going through the scenes. If I need to shake it up, that’s the number one thing I do. And you’ll see that in my book sometimes. Sometimes I’ll be telling a scene… I’m like, I need to shake this up, all right, it’s from Dan’s viewpoint, he’s going to get killed…
[Brandon] Well, actually you survived.
[Dan] Oh, that’s right. Yeah?
[Brandon] That’s really what happened. I’m writing a scene, all right, I’ve written scenes like this a whole lot before the series, it’s the middle book, I’m going to tell it from the viewpoint of the guard standing on the wall rather than the Mistborn who’s flying through the air towards them. An interesting scene. It feels very dramatic…
[Howard] That’s always fun… [garble]
[Brandon] That’s where that comes from. That’s my number one fallback.
[Dave] I think that’s a really good way to do it. A lot of times when you’re writing you don’t realize just how habitual it has become. I always approach the scene this way, I always start it this way. So each time you approach a scene, just say, “How am I going to do it that’s going to be a new way?”
[Brandon] New way for me — yeah.
[Dave] You know the way you can tell the story is boring, by the way, is if you use the word “finally.” Finally, John made it to the bathroom.
[Brandon] I’m glad he made it.
[Dave] If you do that, that’s just a sign… first of all, I always cut out the word “finally” if I ever do come up with one. But then I say to myself, I’ve got to back out and figure out how to shorten the three paragraphs in front of it because I just wrote the word “finally.”
[Dan] You know you taught us that in the class, and I’ve always avoided it, and just yesterday I finally convinced myself it was okay to use the word “finally” and now here I get smacked again.
[Brandon] Now all of our readers are going to read through our books and say, “Oh, look, they were losing it here.” I’m going to get a Butterfinger.
[Dan] I’m going to take a slightly different tack on this and say if you’re having trouble with the boring parts, that might not be a part that should be in there. Part of how to write the boring parts is knowing what to cut out.
[Dave] You know what though, that’s dangerous. And there are other ways to make a story interesting. It doesn’t have to always be the conflict. For example, you can just write beautifully about something, and that’s rewarding to the audience. So if you do a beautifully written description of life outside the manor — the grounds outside the manor or something, that in itself can be fascinating.
[Howard] So you can make up for boring story periods with great prose?
[Uncertain] That you can focus different areas… [garble] a matter of focus…
[Howard] Believe me, I do this all the time with establishing shots in the comic.
[Dave] But then there’s…
[Howard] This needs a shiny picture.
[Dave] Or not necessarily just prose, but maybe a new conflict. We can go from the big battle scene to we’re going to go now to the romantic scene, what’s the romantic fallout of what just happened?
[Brandon] What Dan said had to be said. Howard actually said it a little bit earlier, too, which is that if it’s really boring, you may just want to cut. But the focus of this particular podcast is not cutting out, it’s making [garble]
[Howard] Slogging through it, you gotta write it.
[Brandon] Yes, thank you. Cause sometimes you have to. Howard said something earlier which is just stop writing it. That can be dangerous for new writers. Where sometimes people say, every time I get to chapter 5, it gets boring, I stop and start a new book. That happens to a lot of authors. What you need to learn to do is make chapter 5 as exciting as chapter 1 or more exciting.
[Dan] Now, Dave mentioned conflict, and we always come back to that. I think it’s the most important thing. And if the section you’re writing doesn’t have any conflict in it at all, then of course it’s boring. It doesn’t have to be the main conflict — they don’t have to be killing Sauron in every single chapter of your book.
[Brandon] Writing Prompt, Writing prompt! You have to kill Sauron in every single…
[Dan] You can give them different conflicts, even if it’s something small, like we’re riding through this town and my boots itch so horribly.
[Brandon] Actually, one of the things I wrote down for this to give as a suggestion was first identified which are major plots are — we talked about that in a previous podcast — and then throw a wrinkle into a main plot. Having… just throwing in a fight… I have a friend who says, “Oh, I can always just throw in a fight. It’s getting boring, throw in a fight.” Well, yes and no. It’s better to identify what is the main plot for my characters, what are they trying to accomplish, what can be a wrinkle in stopping them from accomplishing it? If you’re trying to get from point A to point B, and it’s very tense, a horse throwing a shoe can be as powerful of a conflict as getting jumped by ninjas.
[Howard] And also if the parts that you’re excited about writing are, for instance, the action scenes — the Mistborn flying through the air or the guy stabbing and stabbing and stabbing — I have no idea [garble] it may be that…
[Dan] That’s all my books are.
[Howard] When you get to Chapter 5 or whichever chapter you’re bored about, pick a different emotion — instead of picking action and excitement, pick suspense or romance or something…
[Dave] There’s one more thing that you can do, too, though. A lot of times people who are getting bored with their story don’t realize that what’s going on is that they haven’t properly either deepened or broadened their conflict. And so maybe they need to stop and say, “Okay, my conflict just seems to be sort of the same conflict that just got pounded in the last one — maybe instead of fighting orcs this time, we need to escape from [unclear] or something.”
[Howard] Let me turn that statement around real quick, Dave. When you write, are there parts that bore you while you’re writing?
[Dave] Very rarely. Very rarely.
[Howard] Okay. So from what you’ve just said, it sounds like, if you’re being bored, it probably means you’re not doing something right.
[Brandon] That’s a bad thing, if you’re being bored.
[Dave] I think so. I think so.
[Brandon] Let me define… for me, there are a lot of times when I sit down and look at a scene that I’ve got to write and say, “Oh, man, I’m not into writing this right now.”
[Howard] This is hard work, I’m not looking forward to it.
[Brandon] Once I start writing, if I’m still bored, that’s a problem. That does happen to me, but I do one of these fallbacks. I’ve got to approach the scene from a different viewpoint, I’ve got to approach the scene and I’ve got to set it in a new place. That’s another big one I do. New setting. Okay, my thieves have always met in the same place, it’s getting dry for me, let’s have them have their meeting in a restaurant instead or something like this. Different scene. The other one is unexpected wrinkle. Like I said before. I actually had a guy today at one of my signings come to me and say the exact thing like you just said. “I love writing these action scenes but all the stuff in between is really boring, how do I write the stuff in between?” And I think what you said earlier — I’m not sure who said it, so I’m pointing at two people here, you can guess who they are yourself.
[Dan] Not at me though.
[Howard] Probably Dave [garble]
[Brandon] Learn to play other notes. You’re trying to play a symphony with only A flat. Now there are books that are gonna be heavily tilted toward that one note — lots of action. You’re reading a drizard (sp?) book, you want lots of action, but a good book, a drizard book, he’s playing multiple notes. They may be more muted than the battle conflict, but I mean, drizard, you’ve got this great character conflict of this man who doesn’t fit into his culture and doesn’t fit into another culture which is a huge conflict of the entire series as well. Those aren’t just action books. Bob knows how to play multiple notes. You’ve got to learn to play multiple notes too to write a book.
[Howard] You don’t want your action scenes to be like a Jackie Chan movie where they’ve stitched together some fantastic choreography with a plot that nobody cares about and we’re going to blow through this as fast as we can so that we can get to the ladder fights…
[Brandon] And I’ve said before, that works really well in the film, you can do that in a film. It doesn’t work as well in a book.
[Howard] We make fun of it when you do it in a film… and action movies…
[Brandon] But I watch them.
[Howard] Jackie Chan movies are often best watched the boring bits completely edited out because we just want to see the ladder fight and the whatever else.
[Brandon] We’re going to have to can-of-worms that because you just spoke blasphemy. Dan? Any other tricks that you use? You write in first person, how do you keep it interesting? You can’t jump viewpoints.
[Dan] The trap I see myself falling into all the time is that my character will tend to think of the same things every time. We’ve actually talked about that before as if your character is a warrior, he will see things in a warrior’s light. But if that becomes too much, then it becomes boring. If a sociopath is constantly wanting to kill everyone he meets, then everyone is going to become bored with that.
[Uncertain] And [garble]stinctive
[Dan] That’s also true. So allow your characters to be different than they were in the last chapter.
[Dave] Each of us has minor different things that happen to us or different ways that we approach things. I just had to do a battle scene between Bornson and an inlaw — and it’s kind of sticky when you get in a fight with somebody in your own family because now you’ve got all sorts of politics. What’s my wife going to think if I do hit him? I had a girl once that I was dating, a really sweet Mexican girl, and she wanted me to come down and meet her family. And I said, “Great, I’d love to go meet your family.” We were getting pretty serious. And then she says, “But there’s a problem. I’ve got three uncles, and they’re all fasting, and they’re going to cut off your balls when they see you.” I said, “Okay, how do you want me to handle this?” She said, “Well, I think they’re all bigger than you, but I think you can take them.” That’s when I realized I had problems.
[Howard] This relationship may be kind of short term [garble] We’ve reached the end of time.
[Brandon] We’re running out of time on this. There’s one more thing I had on my list which was really interesting side characters. I think this would work really well for writing first-person. Throw in an interesting side character, perhaps tied to the plot. The interesting side character is the wrinkle in the plot you’re getting.
[Howard] But don’t wait too long before introducing them.
[Brandon] You can have them in for just a chapter and then they’re gone. Just an interesting side character for one chapter can work well. Be careful not to girl-in-a-phonebooth them — don’t make them so interesting that they are more interesting than your main character, but having them show up for just one chapter can work really well.
[Howard] Like the guard on the wall.
[Brandon] Like the guard on the wall. Or I just wrote a scene… I can’t say because I’m under an NDA. But in this thing that I can’t talk about I wrote this thing that I can’t talk about about this person I can’t talk about who is really interesting.
[Dave] That is an excellent example.
[Brandon] Thank you.
[Howard] Let’s move on to a writing prompt.
[Dan] Didn’t we already give one?
[Howard] Right. Kill Sauron — kill the main bad guy in every chapter. Figure out how to do that.
Current Mood: garbled
Current Music: Leroy the Redneck Reindeer, Joe Diffie