Should You Leave the Boring Stuff Out of Your Story?

should you leave out the boring stuff in your story?

I read an interview not long ago (although now I can’t find the link) with James Patterson. Wherein Patterson explains how he sells a bagillion books a year. The ‘secret’ is that he leaves the boring stuff out of his stories. By doing so, his stories are fast reads, the action never slows and presumably the reader never gets bored.

While Patterson has other systems that enable him to churn out multiple best sellers yearly that as a reader I’m not crazy about, I tend to side with him on the boring stuff.

If you read or write, you know what I’m talking about. The passages we all skim or skip over entirely when reading a book.

  • Because we want to get to the juicy stuff.
  • Because the color of curtains or that the fabric came from some middle eastern blip of a country that employs child laborers because their tiny hands are just the right size for the intricate pattern interrupts the action.
  • We want to know where the bad guy is hiding.
  • Or if she’s going to say yes to the good guy or the bad boy.
  • Or how our hero is going to get out of the elevator careening toward the underground parking garage from the penthouse suite.

Curtains – schmurtains – gimme the action.

And Patterson isn’t the only famous author who proscribes to the philosophy of boring free stories:

Ernest Hemingway: “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”

Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”

Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with the dull parts left out.”

Italo Calvino: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

 

Is the Narrative necessary or in the way?

As much as I admire (and envy) Pat Conroy’s skills with prose (among others, say, Dean Koontz for example) as a reader I really don’t need to know:

  • The origin of the wallpaper
  • All about our heroine’s first period
  • The play by play on how our hero makes a sandwich.

“But,” you say, “we must have narrative. We must have a sense of space. We must know what the characters look like. We must know the character’s back story. Right?”

Well of course we must have a sense of those things. (Except, back story – very tricky thing, stops the action, takes us off the timeline – a light hand there methinks.) Otherwise our characters are floating free style in space with no anchors or landmarks.

But maybe inference is a better approach than full on assault. Perhaps finding one definitive aspect of a room so the reader’s imagination can fill in the blanks. Could your heroine be a tall, cool, blonde without my having to know how tall, her dress size, her dietary restrictions and the nasty fight she had with her sister when she was five, at the outset?

The whole idea in writing fiction is to show not tell, right? I think that some writers feel they must show the whole room, rather than the really important parts.

I also think that writers have an incessant need to use all their research. I mean, heck, they went to the trouble to research, it seems only fair to let them use it, right? I mean, it is kind of a bitch to spend weeks researching something and maybe only devote a few sentences to it. But then that’s what writing is about. Finding out what you need to know to write the story – it doesn’t necessarily follow that your reader needs to know it too, right?

If you’re not sure you could ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it stop the action?
  • Does it make the story drag or go off in a direction not relevant to moving the story forward?
  • Will it matter to your reader?
  • If it wasn’t there, would your reader miss it?
  • Is it a necessary detail for your reader to know to follow the story?
  • Will it annoy your reader who is up past midnight reading your story to find out what happens next but she can’t find out until she reads the seven pages of description?

Even Best Sellers Might be Surprised

This week I finished a book by one of my favorite writers (who is famous and has written a ton of best sellers). The last hundred pages were riveting. Except for the parts that I had to skim through to get to what the fuck happened and who the hell did it. After I finished the book I actually wondered what he’d think if he knew that I skipped (easily) 50 plus pages of his novel because all that technical crap bores the hell out of me. I also wondered how much time he spent writing those unread, quickly skimmed pages. Maybe he could have finished the book a month early if not for those pages and the edits and the rewrites, etc. And his readers would have been none the wiser. Maybe not. It’s something to think about.

Only you know what your story is. What you want to say. What’s important to your characters. But your readers will decide is it’s important to them. Maybe a little less boring stuff and a little more action is just what they’re looking for.

Writer or reader, what do you think about leaving in or leaving out the boring stuff? I’d be interested in knowing.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

Life Hacks for Readers

life hacks for readers

I love to read. I came out of the womb wanting books. I can’t even remember a time when I couldn’t read. Anyway, if you’re like me, you’re in constant pursuit of the next book (or twelve) that you want to read. So, I thought I’d share a few little tips on getting more books and other reader-ish things you might enjoy.

Used bookstore at your local library. When I discovered that my local library also has a used bookstore I thought I’d died and gone to reader heaven. Most hardbacks at 50 cents and paperback are four for a dollar. Really not or recent hardbacks can be as expensive as two or three bucks. But I’ve been known to take five bucks to the library used bookstore and walk out with 10 books. Check and see if your local library has a used bookstore.

Friend book swap. If you have other friends who are readers you could set up a book swap. You could each buy a book that all of you want to read and then pass them around. Have your own little lending library.

Online lending library. The Open Library  is an online lending library that allows you to borrow eBooks from a growing collection of mainly 20th Century titles available now. Each title can be borrowed by one patron at once, and you can read it in a web browser or in Adobe Digital Editions as a PDF or ePub. I did check their website and did a search on a favorite author – they had every title of his. So this is a real find.

Project Gutenberg. The Project Gutenberg  site offers mostly classics (public domain) books which you can download for free. They offer over 45,000 free ebooks in pdf, epub and kindle formats. No fee or registration is required.

Free audio books. There are several sites that offer a one-month free trial during which you can get free audio books. However, Books Should Be Free  offers free books – period. Like Project Gutenberg the books are classics and in the public domain.

Kindle apps. A lot of people may think that in order to read a Kindle book they must have a Kindle. However, Amazon offers free apps  for phone, tablet, laptop and pc which you can download and read your Kindle books with.

Keep a running list of the books you’ve read. The reader tracker is an app that you can download for your iPhone, iPod or iPad. Apparently it’s free right now for a limited time. You can also set up lists at Goodreads that will keep track of all the books you’ve read, want to read and do reviews as well.

Other Stuff

Hard time keeping your paperback open to the right page? Use a bullclip to tame those pages. readers life hacks

 

Want a laptop reading desk? See if you can find an old breakfast tray at the local thrift store. This one is a lot like the one I found for a couple bucks and it even has a drink holder.

life hacks for readers

Offer to become beta reader. If you happen to know any authors, or frequent author websites you can volunteer to become a beta reader. Beta readers agree to read one or more drafts of a novel and then give feedback. The cool thing about this is that you can help an author polish and refine her work, and also be privy to the book before publication. With the exception of the really famous authors out there, most writers would be thrilled to have people volunteer to be a beta.

What about you – have any tricks or tips for readers? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Writer Chick

copyright 2014

Does Anyone Need a Book?

does anyone need a book?I’m a writer.  I’ve always been a writer.  I write because I need to write.  I write because I love to write.  I write because it’s who I am.

And writing, though it has its challenging moments is the fun part.  It’s the part where I get to go somewhere of my own creation.  Where I get to converse with people who were born in my imagination.  Where I can go on any kind of adventure I want.

But there is another part of writing.  The business side.  I don’t mean the freelance business side.  That’s a post for another day (or never).  I mean, the part where you sell your book.  I always feel a little funny about that whole idea.  Selling my book.  It kind of feels like selling my child.  Not that I don’t want people to read it, I definitely do – but the selling part…I don’t know, it makes me feel a bit cheap.

There is no logical explanation for this feeling.  All writers sell their books, or at least try to sell their books.  Some authors are incredibly good at doing it too.  Some authors have platforms and marketing plans and Facebook contests and millions of followers and merchandizing deals.  It’s impressive.

And I think, I need to do that.  I need to have a platform and followers, a marketing plan and I could really get down with some Scotti and Zelda  hats, tees and aprons.

But then I get hung up.  Then I have to delve into that whole marketing thing.  And marketing is a completely different animal than fiction.  I suppose there is some aspect of make-believe about it but mostly it’s about finding the people who need your book.

That’s where I get hung up.  Do you need my book?  It’s not food.  It’s not shelter.  It’s not health insurance.  It’s just a book, right?  People can live without books.  Some may not be happy about it – but it’s doable.  You could have a perfectly good life without ever reading fiction.

And even if you could make the case that somebody needs a fiction book – which clearly thousands of authors have done – the question that still remains for me is, do they need my book?

It started as a casual conversation over dinner

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend.  We drove out to a seafood place and had a proper dinner with appetisers, main courses, dessert and coffee.  It was lovely and something neither of us do that often.

Somehow we got on the topic of the book I am currently writing.  He asked me what it was about.  So I gave him the two sentence blurb.  Then he asked me to tell him the story.  I was shocked because usually my friends nod and smile, say ‘that’s nice’ and we move onto other conversation topics.  But he actually wanted me to tell him the story.

So I did.  I started out thinking I would just give him the highlights but instead I ended up telling him the story.  The entire story.  And the more I talked, the more I told the story, the more enraptured he became.  I can’t remember a time when anyone had so thoroughly hung on my every word.  The look on  his face was somewhere between joy and euphoria.  It was a-maz-ing!

I never knew that something I made up, something I imagined would bring someone joy.  Would entice another human being so much.  I wished I could bottle his reaction and the feeling I got in seeing his reaction.

We ended up staying at the restaurant until closing because he didn’t want me to stop the story.  And when I was finished he said, “I should really read. I need to read  your book when you’ve published it.”

This was even more touching because this particular friend is not a reader.  Which was one of the reasons that I was so gobsmacked that he wanted me to tell him the story.

So the point is?

I realized that people really do need books.  And that they don’t have to be informative books or books where you learn how to do something.  People need fiction.  It may not feed their bodies but it can feed their soul, or their imagination or their mind.  Or maybe just give them a very inexpensive ticket to a fun vacation where they aren’t required to leave home.

It’s so easy for writers to feel frustrated and that nobody cares about this little story they are writing.  But I think that if you could have been there and seen my friend’s face, you’d feel differently.

So people do need books.  They need your books and they need my books.  They need food for thought, for the soul, just for the fun of it.

I’m still not very good on this marketing thing and frankly it scares the hell out of me.  But at least I know that people do need books.  So that’s a start, right?

Do you need books?  What needs do books fill for you?

Copyright 2014

Think you can’t read a Kindle Book because you don’t have a Kindle? Think again

kindle readerIn the last few years, the popularity of digital books and novels has continued to grow and based on the numbers, it looks like they will continue to do so. 

Kindle and digital books have been a great alternate avenue for writers, especially indie writers who have not had  luck in following traditional routes in being published.  However, it’s a double-edged sword because while Amazon and other digital book retailers have offered an alternate path for publication, consumers who don’t own a Kindle or other digital reader may feel left out in the cold.

Amazon has taken care of all that.  You don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle book because you can download any of several free apps  (applications) to read your Kindle book on the device of your choice.  Kindle has reading apps for:

Amazon also provides apps for Androids, Blackberries, Windows Phone and other tablets. And even if you don’t have any of the devices mentioned above, you can still read a Kindle book in the cloud – from your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.)

In other words, Amazon has gone to great lengths to make reading a Kindle book as easy as possible for you.

So, if there is a book out there that you are really dying to read that is only available in digital format, don’t despair.  Just go to Amazon and download the free app of your choice and enjoy your new book.  You may find that you like the digital read so much that a Kindle reader might find its way onto your wish list.

Writer Chick

copyright 2013