How to Make Boring Story Parts Exciting

Golden Goose

Image by DonkeyHotey/Flickr CC

This is another guest post by blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg. If you have followed my blog in the last couple of months, you have probably come across him, namely because the Stockholm’s Syndrome sets in faster when you drug the candy😀 .

Once again, I’m going to gently nudge you into the direction of his free ebook about “44 Key Questions” to test your story; it will help you make your scenes tight and compelling and detect any story problem you might have. This time, Alex is showing us a very interesting recipe to keep every single part of your story interesting. Take it away, Alex!

***

Uh-oh! It’s showdown time.

In your heart-stopping thriller piece, Tinky the milkman has just found out who poisoned Lady Chatterbee’s canary. Now he is driving to the ash grove for the faceoff in the old mill.

Your scene before and your scene after are sweat-inducing, ear-wringing, eye-popping pieces that keep your audience glued to the page.

But this little scene in between, when Tinky is quietly sitting in his car, motor humming and wheels turning… well, there is just absolutely nothing happening. It’s dull. Sleep-inducing. It would make a dog with rabies put on his pyjamas.

Let’s say you still want it in there. You need a connection piece, you want to slow down the pace a little to ramp it up more effectively later on. Maybe you even want to weave in a bit of backstory, so we better understand where Tinky is coming from.

But how can you do it in a way that doesn’t completely choke off any excitement in your reader?

How do you make a scene that is naturally not very exciting interesting in its own way?

This post will give you a practical roadmap for how to make the in-between sexy. Also, because I know long-winding and unmotivated story parts are often hard to detect for the writer himself, you can here download a free goodie to check your story for superfluous parts and any other imaginable weakness (it uses test questions).

This is how to keep your story fresh and exciting in every scene:

1. If You Can, Trash It

Your first choice should always be to get rid of any in-betweens that don’t advance your plot. To show your protagonist getting out of bed, showering and preparing her breakfast cereals would slow your story down ridiculously, destroy its rhythm and bore the boots off your readers.

There is a storytelling rule that says: “Get into the scene at the latest possible moment and out at the earliest possible moment.” You can observe this rule in meticulous action in screenplays and movies.

Filmmakers in particular can’t afford to bore their audience for even one second. With the ultra-short attention span of today’s music video culture, viewers will just cold-bloodedly switch channels.

However, sometimes you will have your very own reasons to show an additional scene: You may want to show your character in a different light, display her personality or habits or slow down the rhythm on purpose. Maybe you want to give your reader a feeling for passage of time or show social surroundings, working space or landscape. There are a million possible motives.

So should you decide to hang on to your scene, here are a couple of helpful techniques to keep your audience hooked.

Garbage Can

2. Introduce Personality: Make It about Character

Instead of worrying how to fill those pages, see them as an awesome opportunity to breathe more life into your characters!

Look at it this way: In most scenes, your plot carries the burden to advance your story.

But now, in your little in-between scene, your character has a chance to fully take the stage and showcase a brand new side of herself. If the story is about her professional life, make that scene about her private life; if the story is about her bright side, make that scene about her dark side – or the other way around.

You might also use the scene to introduce new relationships we don’t know about yet. New relationships can give a deeper glimpse into your character’s personality and show her in a different light.

Each of us human beings is a complete drama on his own. We are also utterly entertaining in our own ways… Use your pages so your reader gets to know your characters better and your entire work will profit!

3. Introduce Action: Make It about Drama

Better yet, when you get several of us together, the drama is exponentiated. So you could involve several characters in your scene and use it for a mini-plot, a play within the play.

Your mini-plot doesn’t have to be connected to the main plot, nor does it have to be about some big and important theme. Depending on your genre, it could be everyday drama and as mundane as a girl forgetting her handbag on the bus.

The overarching plot plays from beginning to end of the entire novel. In turn, your mini-plot could play from beginning to end of the scene, with a similar structure; for example:

  1. Introduction
  2. Problem arises
  3. First attempt at solution
  4. New twist and problem even worsens; Climax
  5. Problem gets solved; Happy ending

If you want the complete ballad of the forgotten handbag, how about this: Girl cheerfully rides on a bus, thinking of happy days (introduction); while she is waiting for her connecting bus, she realizes she has forgotten her handbag (problem arises); she enters the first bus again, only to discover the bag isn’t there anymore (attempt at solution, problem worsens in climax); she asks the driver in desperation and learns that somebody has found the bag and taken it to a lost property office (problem solved); happily she goes to pick it up (happy end).

Of course, you can also let a character play through the whole sequence solely in his mind. For example, let him worry about horrible outcomes of the main plot. At that point, he won’t even have to interact with anybody to create drama; he doesn’t even have to move or to do anything. Just let a worst-case scenario play out in his head.

If you are bored, just make things more difficult for your characters: A nightly walk through the park is a lot more suspenseful if you are not sure if somebody is following you. If nothing else helps, you can always fall back on conflict to spice up your tale.

Make sure your mini-plot fits the kind of story you are telling and doesn’t overwhelm your main plot. A comedy with the mini-plot of a mad axe murderer can be done, but you have to make sure to hit the right note…

4. Introduce Questions: Make It about Suspense

Suspense is always about questions: Who is the murderer? Will Godzilla eat the city? What secret does Martin hide from Sharon?

Your readers will never get bored as long as there are nagging questions on their minds.

Question Garden

Image by Dennis Brekke/Flickr CC

In your in-between scene, you have two choices to raise a question.

Option one: You could spin a question of the overall plot further. For example, letting your character contemplate if Craig can even be the murderer, because he was on vacation the entire time; letting your readers know that Godzilla has just eaten another city block; hinting at that breathtaking secret of Martin’s.

Option two: Your mini-plot could create suspense by raising a question on its own. In the example above, it would be the question: Will the girl ever get her handbag back?

In the end, dealing with in-between sections is about giving your scenes a life of their own. This, of course, is something you should always do in any scene, so it’s excellent practice.

You are a storyteller, and if you want to be a really good one, know that not only the raisin parts of your story are worth telling. Any part of your story should be worth writing well and making it at least a little bit interesting.

And if you do take the effort to polish every part of your story, it will feel continuous and complete and shine on like a crazy diamond. Your story will engage your reader continuously, draw her in deeply and take her on a rollercoaster ride she will never be able to forget.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check how tight your scenes are and much more with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

Kristen here again.

Now let’s hear it from you: What do you usually do with a connection scene? What happens in your story if nothing happens? Do you sometimes let dull story parts slide? Do you proceed to tell people the cookiemonster ate your exciting version? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if all of our scenes could be as dull as watching water condense?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes!

Back by popular demand! Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Beyond craft and to the business of our business?

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Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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  1. #1 by Eugenie Black on April 22, 2016 - 9:33 am

    Okaaaay…. I think I now feel slightly better about the scene I’ve just written where my hero does nothing but swim six times across a cold ocean bay (and not even to get to a lady on the other side). He uses the time to do a lot of introspection and we find out more about his upbringing. Could I introduce some drama whereby he is nearly stung by jellyfish? Nah – jellyfish don’t inhabit Scottish waters in April – at least I don’t think they do… More research indicated? Nope – that’s a distraction. Just go back to that scene when I do the second draft and write it tighter, I think. And – thanks for the free book recommendation. I look forward to measuring my baby against it!

    • #2 by Alex on April 22, 2016 - 10:20 am

      Sounds like a good plan, Eugenie!

  2. #3 by thesexiestwriter on April 22, 2016 - 9:35 am

    I think my ear has gotten better at this, and most of the time I either dump the scene after the vomit draft or strangle it before it’s typed. Am I right that it’s easier to kill the scene than it is to try to make it work?

    • #4 by Alex on April 22, 2016 - 10:19 am

      Oh yes, it’s usually a lot easier to kill it.

      And if we eliminated all the scenes, that would be easiest for us.😉

  3. #5 by foguth on April 22, 2016 - 9:46 am

    Excellent post. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise.

  4. #6 by annaerishkigal on April 22, 2016 - 10:11 am

    The perfect post, just when I’m staring at the WIP that I just regurgitated and saying ‘Gah! It’s BORING!!!’ I have printed this out and will run all those red-flagged places through the paces🙂

  5. #7 by Elizabeth Rose on April 22, 2016 - 10:58 am

    I usually cut it. If it’s boring, I want the word count for something else.

    I have also been known to write the “good” parts first and go back to connect them later. Makes the writing more fun and reduces boring bits.

  6. #8 by ugiridharaprasad on April 22, 2016 - 11:01 am

    Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  7. #9 by Jacquie Biggar on April 22, 2016 - 11:33 am

    Great tips! I hate reading a book with a lot of slow scenes. That said, it makes it harder to get a high word count if you take too many of these transitional moments out of your work.

  8. #10 by historewriter on April 22, 2016 - 12:22 pm

    This came to me at precisely the right time. Revising and am approaching that saggy middle. . .SNOOZE really-wanna-keep-the-expository-info, but ZZZZZ…. Raising questions: awesome good suggestion, thanks!

  9. #11 by mandibelle16 on April 22, 2016 - 12:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Mandibelle16 and commented:
    Great Writing Tips

  10. #12 by Damian Trasler on April 22, 2016 - 2:08 pm

    exponentiated

  11. #13 by Damian Trasler on April 22, 2016 - 2:53 pm

    Ah, found it in the dictionary. Thank you.

  12. #14 by James Pailly on April 22, 2016 - 3:02 pm

    I have to agree… trashing a scene is usually the best option.

  13. #15 by M Byerly on April 22, 2016 - 3:04 pm

    The great romantic suspense writer Phyllis Whitney said that the only time you should have your character folding laundry and thinking is when the reader KNOWS that the ax murderer is behind her. That advice has never failed me.

  14. #17 by ellenchauvet on April 22, 2016 - 3:40 pm

    Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire.

  15. #18 by luckyjc007 on April 22, 2016 - 8:14 pm

    I appreciate you sharing these very helpful writing tips..Great post.

  16. #19 by Phillip T Stephens on April 22, 2016 - 8:57 pm

    I tell young writers to kill their babies because they hold onto precious prose even when it isn’t precious. But anything that involves walking though doors, sitting at the dinner table, exchanges of hellos, and back story longer than three sentences kills the pace of the story. Unless there’s a killer at the dinner table, or waiting behind the door and someone won’t be leaving.

  17. #20 by Joy Pixley on April 22, 2016 - 9:29 pm

    Great timing and great advice as always, Alex! I’ve got a chapter just like this ready for my writers group on Monday and I’ve been struggling to make it Not Quite So Boring. It’s really short, at least (1250 words) and is intended as a calming breath of mundane air in the midst of some crazy stuff before and after. Plus it briefly introduces some new (very minor) characters and reminds the reader that the everyday household stuff still is happening in the background. But there’s something about writing a magical / haunted house story and having a chapter with the working title “nice day with the new staff”. Ugh.

  18. #21 by Don Massenzio on April 23, 2016 - 6:52 am

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here are some great tips to help you add excitement to your story.

  19. #22 by karathrace20 on April 24, 2016 - 3:47 am

    Thanks for the great article. Just today I wrote a connecting chapter with very little action. I am not sure if it worked, but it used interactions between characters to heighten conflict and explore character emotions (particularly desire, frustration and fear).
    Just before this interaction, the character is engaged in a menial work task, then becomes frustrated by letting himself think about a woman who has been beyond his reach for years.
    @BeccaRose2806

  20. #23 by Gerald W Darnell on April 25, 2016 - 4:19 pm

    Reblogged this on carsonrenomysteryseries.com.

  21. #24 by Larry Chroman on April 27, 2016 - 7:35 pm

    Hi Kristen, I am a fan, a regular reader of your blog. I cannot connect on May 14th to the class you are offering on the First Five Pages. Is there any possibility to enroll in the course, listen to the discussion online afterwards, and then send my pages? You are offering such a great opportunity I dont want to pass it up. Thank you and thank you for all the knowledge you are sharing. Larry Chroman >

    • #25 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 27, 2016 - 8:03 pm

      Yes, the recordings are for those who cannot make the class (or to refresh afterwards, too). I recommend taking the class before submitting pages so you can correct any of the errors I address. This way, when you get my edits, I can go after the guts of your story and prose instead of marking stuff you would have changed.

  22. #26 by Dawn Ross on April 28, 2016 - 9:31 am

    Great tips! I was recently struggling with a scene where one of the main characters was evaluating the situation in his head and moping about how things were going. It was very boring. I know you mentioned a character could do this, but the way I wrote it just wasn’t enough. So after thinking a bit, I decided to put him in a pub and have his thoughts brought out into the open by interacting with another character. That added character interaction made a difference because it revealed more of my main character’s personality. Thanks for the tips!

  23. #27 by Monique Desir on April 28, 2016 - 12:40 pm

    Reblogged this on adaratrosclair.

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