Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cut the Boring

Ever wonder why you don't see characters paying their bills?

Because it's boring!

I know that because I do that. I pay the bills. And it's boring.

Unless paying the bills has something to do with the plot, it's probably best to leave it out. Don't put in boring, mundane tasks just to increase the word count. When you are editing, stop and ask yourself if what the character is doing is interesting, moves the plot forward, establishes the character, or in some way greatly contributes to the manuscript.

If it doesn't meet one of those criteria, seriously think about cutting it. Or try to think of some way the character could pay the bills that would make it more interesting or show his/her character in a unique way.

If your goal is to demonstrate that the character is in reality boring, then come up with a way to show it so that while the task may be mundane, your way of telling it is not.

Part of your editing process should be to cut the boring stuff. If it's really not necessary for the reader to see it, then cut it. That includes a lot of walking from the house to the car. Certainly includes the fifteen times in the book that your character picks up the phone and says, "Hello." Cut out the introductions, get to the meat of the conversation or encounter. Your protagonist doesn't have to feed the cat every time he comes into the house in order for the reader to know he has a cat and he's responsible in the way he cares for it.

Cut the boring so you won't bore your readers.


  1. Yes! This is a common mistake with new writers and it's so very true.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Wyatt.

    Why are you called Wyatt, anyway? Give us the scoop.

  3. Thanks for the reminder Helen. Yes, paying bills is boring - let's not do it any more. . .

  4. LOL!! You also never see characters going to the bathroom! Actually one Star Trek had a character go to the bathroom, and the characters comment was that "Heros never go to the head." It cracked me up.

  5. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between an act that characterizes and one that is mind-numbing to the reader. (a major, very successful, book got away this recently) But you're correct, a writer must be ruthless with anything that doesn't move the story forward. A scene paying bills would only work if the character is about to go crazy and hold up the power company or something. : )

    Thank you, this is a good reminder and as I'm about to start on such an edit, timely.

  6. I'm reminded of an historical writer who shoveled in so much of her research in her last book that we've never heard from her again. When you spend so much time in research, it's difficult not to share it with your readers. :)


  7. Good point. I agree. I think it helps to make characters "real" to have them doing "normal" things once and a while, but weave it into the story well and please not too much of it because it is, well ... boring.

  8. I agree with Marvin. A quick or partial line to describe these simple actions is good, but it can be overdone.
    I think over-describing is a hang-up as well. I can think of some rather well-known authors who are long-winded in their descriptions, too! I guess I just prefer more were left to my own imagination...

    L. Diane Wolfe

  9. Ann, it would sure be nice if we all got to quit paying bills. I believe the closest we'll ever come is setting them all up on auto pay.

    What great comments from everyone! It's hard to know where to draw the line. You don't want to go overboard and do info dump or spend long pages describing the scenery. On the other hand, you don't want your characters walking around as though they're in a white room (unless they are).

    Following WriterMomof5's lead, though, I could see a character paying bills then grabbing the letter opener and doing a Psycho shower scene on all the bills on the desk.

  10. One problem is that boring is not the same for every author or reader. I get bored easily when I read certain books, while others rave about them.

    Speaking of boring - I have to get my tax stuff in order soon, which means balancing the checkbooks, which I've put off way too long.

    Morgan Mandel

  11. I am so sorry I brought up paying taxes, Now everyone is remembering they have that chore to do!

  12. Thanks for the post. I have to go through a manuscript several times to catch and delete my mundane task scenes. I'm hoping I soon break the habit of writing them to begin with.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  13. You will, Jane. Although just being able to recognize this habit and catch it on the read-through phase is a big advantage.

  14. Great advice as usual, Helen. Thanks.


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