Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Don't Be Boring

I have a new mantra: DON'T BE BORING.

Or if not a mantra, at least a new goal. (Not that I was trying to be boring before.) And I figure if I can focus on that one thing, then maybe I can push through the hell-for-me-stage-of-novel-writing other people simply call a first draft.

I suppose DON'T BE BORING in itself adds some potentially paralyzing pressure to the process. (Why can't I come up with cute alliterations like that in my first drafts, when I can in this blog?)

But instead of letting the pressure scare me, I'm trying to think of it as more of a touchstone, a way to make choices.

And what exactly do I mean by DON'T BE BORING? Well, other than having interesting characters in a plot that's fast paced and non-repetitive, my don't be boring rule boils down to two main things: conflict and tension.

Now, that may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but I'm starting to think they are (or can be) two different concepts.

I think of conflict as making sure my POV character has a goal in each scene and something keeping him/her from achieving that goal. As long as my character is doing something active to struggle against whatever's keeping him/her from their goal, I figure there's conflict in that scene. (And of course, there should be goals and conflicts for the overall story, but I'm talking at a scene level here.)

And by tension, I mean that in every exchange of dialogue, in every description, in every passage of internal thought, there should be some kind of tension. It can be as simple as having a character say one thing when they mean another, or layering two conversations together, where each party wants to be discussing a different topic and is battling for control of the conversation. (And I don't mean arguing, it can be playful, I mean just swapping topics back and forth.) Or even as simple as having the character feeling an emotion they want to hide, or having the descriptive details of the setting oppose what the character's feeling, or highlight some other dimension to what they are feeling. Tension.

I think this is what Donald Maass calls micro-tension, and it's more subtle than the heavier hammer of "conflict". And while it's harder to achieve, I also think great writers of fiction do it naturally, without even thinking about it. They ensure there's a push-pull feeling to their writing, even when doing description. And while some may do this intuitively, the rest of us have to work at it. And I think what it boils down to is: don't write anything that is boring.

Wow, could my point get more circular?

I think my 13 days of rapid first drafting has eaten my brain. (Hmmm... brains... zombies... yes... this book needs more zombies...)


Molly O'Keefe said...

I love it! The tension aspect especially. And I am 100% feeling your pain. Don't be boring - in your first draft everything feels boring. Even exciting things feel boring.

I am eager to hear how your blitz is going...

Kristen Painter said...

I always think my stuff is boring. My editor tells me otherwise. I think it's because I get sick of reading it.

Maureen McGowan said...

Thanks Molly and Kristen.

I think there is some of that. When we first come up with an idea it's all bright and shiny, but then we work on it and it becomes mundane, been there, done that...

Hard to keep perspective.

Sinead M said...

I feel that the work is boring during the 1st draft and the last edit.

Hate that feeling.

Eileen said...

I'm with Sinead! That first draft can be so dull. Then you shine it up and polish it and tweak it. By the time I get to galleys, though, I generally think I've written the stoopidest piece of dog poo ever to hit a shelf.

I like the idea behind the new mantra though. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in moving the plot forward I forget about the tension. I might have to put it on a sticky over my computer. :-)

Amy Ruttan said...

Microtension, I like that.

I've been whipping through this book, which is totally out of the genre I thought I was supposed to write it, and I've consciously made sure I end every chapter and begin every chapter with a hook.

It's been exhausting, despite the book is churning out fast. Does that make sense? I think I might've turned into a zombie with you.

M. said...

Hahaha! So funny, and so true. Simple advice but hard to achieve.

Myself, I have to resist the temptation to throw in an incongrous joke just for the hell of it whenever I fear things start to drag. Usually involving an animal.

Kimber Chin said...

I tend to kill someone off when things drag (usually a pregnant woman or a small animal).
Not the best solution.

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