Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull parts cut out of it.” Is that the secret to good fiction writing? Can it be that simple?
Let’s say you’re looking over the story you just finished writing and you see a section where the action really drags. While writing, it seemed necessary to describe a scene fully or explain a character’s backstory so later plot actions would make sense. Now you’re torn. Should you follow Hitchcock’s advice and just cut that section, or leave it in at the risk of boring your readers?
I recommend using the following process to deal with boring sections of your story:
- No matter what the nature of boring part, and no matter what attribute makes it boring, ask if you really need it at all. If readers can still follow the plot or identify with the characters without that part, or if it’s some superfluous tangent, then obey Alfred and cut it out. (Okay, you can save the text in some ‘deleted darlings’ file for use in a different story if you want, but cut it out of this one.)
- If the boring part of your story feels like the action is dragging and it could use some interesting twist, see author Steve Parolini’s entertaining post. He’ll delight you with 12 plot twists you can use. As you read them, you’ll realize there are many more; the dozen he gives you may suggest others that will fit your story better. Note: these twists may well send your story in unplanned (but definitely unboring) directions.
- If the boring part is a setting depiction, or a description of character backstory, or a detailed explanation of some aspect of the story, it’s possible you really do need to convey that information somehow. That part, though currently boring, is necessary for the reader to enjoy or understand the story. For this situation, turn to this post by mooderino, (which also has a wonderfully fitting image), who provides three options for that boring part:
- Move it later. Don’t put it at the beginning, but save it for a point when the reader is hooked on the story and the protagonist.
- Move it to a scene when that character is alone. The reader isn’t expecting much action in these scenes, and the reader is catching her breath from a previous action scene.
- Split it up and sprinkle it around. Perhaps you can insert pieces of the information into more interesting scenes, thus allowing those details to emerge as the story moves along.
- If none of the preceding steps really work for you; if that boring part reveals something important about the plot, character, or setting; then take the risk and leave it right where it is. That’s the advice of author Richard Riley in this post. You might just want to edit that boring part to put more energy in the words, but other than that, just leave it.
If this has helped you deal with a boring section of your story, leave a comment, but be careful not to wake up—