How Can I Tell if My Book is Boring?
Today I'm picking apart every writer’s greatest insecurity: "What if my book is boring?!"
It very well might be, and sometimes it's hard to tell...
Actually, no. Not really. There are some telltale signs that your book is an absolute snooze. The problem is a lot of writers don't know how to read into these signs. But that's where I come in! I'm telling you how to figure out if your book is boring, so you can fix that shit real quick!
Now let me break down the 10 reasons why your book is mega, super, ultra boring. Sorry, not sorry!
This video is sponsored by Novelpad. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Your Book Is Slow
Pacing varies based on genre. Some genres naturally move slower than others. Some genres naturally move very, very quickly. Likewise, in most novels, there tends to be a mix of faster scenes and slower scenes in order to create balance and intrigue. However, if your pace is consistently super slow–specifically in scenes that don't need to be, or shouldn't be slow–this is boring.
"But Jenna, how do I know if a scene doesn't need to be, or shouldn't be slow?"
Is your character doing jack shit aside from eating cereal? Then speed it up! No one gives a fuck about cereal. Is your character fighting a bad guy or running for their life? Then the pace absolutely should not be slow. Running is fast! That's the entire point of it!
Pro Tip: If you are relying on long sentences or paragraphs and tons of descriptions, you're looking at a slow scene. And while slow scenes absolutely have their place, too many in a row will put your reader to sleep.
Number 2: You Keep Repeating Yourself
I recently read a book where a character only had one week left to live. This right here sets high stakes. It should make things interesting. Except the author kept reminding the reader that the character had one week left to live...in every paragraph. I once counted six mentions on a single page. If you turned it into a drinking game, you would have died of alcohol poisoning before the chapter was over.
Repetition has its place stylistically, and slight repetition can be useful to remind the reader of important events. But you don't gotta repeat the same shit over and over again! This caters to your dumbest reader, and if you write for dummies, you get a dumb book. For everyone else, the repetition is gonna make the book boring and a little offensive.
Number 3: You’ve Got Too Many Info Dumps
Info dumps, by and large, are not interesting. They should be few and far between. There are some genres where info dumps are harder to avoid. You may inevitably have a couple. A couple info dumps are fine. An info dump every other page...is boring.
Typically, the content that most often gets info dumped is the world building, and that's a very lazy way to create your world. Instead of writing lengthy essays, you can show the world around your character as they experience it. And if they're not experiencing it, guess what? It's not relevant to the book!
Info dumps are the number one problem listed when readers complain about boring stories. Unless you want your book comparable to melatonin, use the action of your story in order to build the world.
Number 4: You’re All Tell And No Show
One of the reasons info dumps are so boring is because they're all tell, no show. You are telling your reader the history of the world. You're telling them about the farming and agriculture. You know what other reading material does this? Textbooks! The things we avoid reading because they're so fuckin' boring!
But telling can expand past info dumps. Sometimes writers get lazy and tell how a character is feeling, tell what a character learned, or even worse–tell the themes of their novel. It's not interesting to be spoon-fed the most dynamic, visceral content of a story. It's so much more engaging to show sexual tension through heartbeats and body language. It's exciting to show a character's growth and arc. And themes are meant to be implied, not explicitly stated in neon lights. Telling takes away the immersion. It removes the reader from the story, which makes the content a whole lot duller.
Number 5: Your Writing Is Clunky
Your writing is your method of delivering the storyline, and clunky writing is kinda like displaying a perfectly cooked steak in a soggy paper bag. Not appealing, is it?
So how can you tell if your writing is clunky? First of all, your sentences are structured the same, with the same format, syntax, and conjunctions. Second, you are relying too heavily on cliches. "She was as free as a bird!" "He was gone in the blink of an eye!" Third, there is no variety in sentence length. Longer sentences draw out the pace, shorter sentences quicken the pace, and you need a variety to keep things interesting. And lastly, your writing is too clinical. Many writers, like myself, prefer a straightforward approach. But there's a difference between clarity and being dry. Remember, writing is an art form. It's not only important to tell your story, but to tell it with finesse.
There's a difference between clarity and being dry. Remember, writing is an art form. It's not only important to tell your story, but to tell it with finesse.
Number 6: Your Characters Are Two-Dimensional
It's not interesting to follow characters who don't feel like real people. Even the shallowest people have layers and personality. They have strengths and weaknesses, they have fears and vulnerabilities. Your characters need to be more than one or two notes.
Characters are another one of the most common reasons stated when claiming a book is boring, because characters drive the story forward. And for a lot of readers, including myself, we are reading for the characters first and foremost. So if you can sum up your character's personality or role in one or two descriptors, that's a bad sign.
Number 7: Your Characters Don’t Develop
Not all characters need to develop throughout a novel, because not all people develop through their circumstances. But a good chunk of your characters need to have some kind of arc, or at least a reaction to the plot's events. Depending on the genre, if all your characters remain static, it can be pretty boring. It's also unrealistic, especially if you're writing a high stakes novel with life and death consequences. Yes, not everyone develops over time. Some people are stuck in their ways. But almost dying is probably gonna change people, I'm just sayin'.
Pay attention to your characters. How do they change throughout the story, if at all? If they don't change, does it make sense to the circumstances, their background, or your thematic statements? Analyzing this will go a long way in making sure your story feels fresh and engaging.
Number 8: You’re Too Self-Indulgent
It's great to be self-indulgent...to a point. Gluttony is a sin, God damn it! In this case, I'm talking about self-indulgence when it comes to your prose. Flowery prose has a place in fiction, but there's a difference between artful poetry and stroking your ego. If it's taking five sentences to describe a simple, unimportant action, you're not being artistic, you're jerkin' yourself off!
"Look at all the big, fancy words I pulled out of my smart brain!"
An example of this could be, "He stared at her through crystalline orbs the color and depth of the ocean, and just as the waves crashed with a cacophonous fury, so, too did the contemplative vehemence of his gaze." This is too damn much! Some of it can be salvaged, but crystalline orbs? They're eyeballs, for God's sake! It's fine to be poetic if it enhances the story, but not at the expense of clarity.
Number 9: You’ve Deviated From The Plot
Filler is content that doesn't drive your plot or subplot forward. It's just kind of there. Usually, writers cling to their filler saying that it's there to help develop your characters. However, your characters are supposed to develop through the plot and subplots. That's the entire point.
I've read books where the conflict at the start of the story gets completely abandoned halfway through, and suddenly, we're reading an entirely new book. What? I've also read books where a conflict is introduced at the beginning, we spend the next 75% of the book meandering, and then suddenly we get to the climax and the conflict is again addressed and resolved immediately.
Remember, your book blurb gives a promise to the reader. It lets them know what to expect. If you deviate far from that promise, readers are gonna be pissed.
Pro Tip: If you're not sure if you're deviating too far from your plot, go through every chapter of your book. Does each chapter move the plot of your story forward in some way? If not, back to the drawing board.
Number 10: Your Readers Are DNF-ing
This is the most obvious way to tell if your book is boring, yet it's the one thing most writers ignore. This is exactly why the critique partner and beta reader stage of the writing process is so important. If a CP or a beta can't finish reading your book, that's feedback itself.
Now, sometimes people can't finish your book due to extenuating circumstances, so if a handful of betas DNF, I wouldn't be too concerned. But if a BIG chunk of readers disappear into the night, your book is boring. Yes, it would be a whole lot more helpful if these people told you that they're not going to finish your book because it didn't capture their attention, but human beings are flawed. And in this case, a little cowardly.
Pay attention to the number of critique partners and beta readers who can't finish your book. If close to half of them are DNF-ing, it's time to reassess some things. Your manuscript may be kinda dull, and you gotta fix that!
So that's all I've got for you today!
This article should have summed up all the big red flags telling you if your book is a snooze-fest. If you’ve read these points and think you might’ve fucked some stuff up, now’s the time to fix your shit! Use these tips to spice up your manuscript, build in some interest, and get readers reading again.
On that note, do you like flowery prose or a more clinical style? Asking for a friend...
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