January 20, 2010, F said, For me, what happens is, I do not want to skip ahead and write any other scene, and prefer to write in order, like the whole book in one go. I have difficulty in ‘feeling’ for my characters. If there is a scene I look forward to, I wait until I come to it. And all those scenes are the ones I am actually proud of when I read back. The others, I can definitely see that they need fixing up. Is there any tip you can give us which can help us to stay ‘in tune’ with our characters and plot, and not get bored? I really like my plot, but lack the motivation to write some (most) of the times, since my characters feel just the little bit too flat, and too listless.
I’m picking up three separate questions: writing in order, flat characters, and being bored.
Starting backwards, sometimes I get bored too. My story can make me so sleepy that I have to do something else to keep my head from falling into the keyboard. When I’m more awake I go back to work, until I have to stop again. For me, the early stages of a book are especially torpor-inducing. Often my drowsiness has no bearing on the quality of what I’m writing. A particular chapter may be terrific, despite the fact that it’s putting me out. So don’t assume that what you’re writing when you’re bored is boring.
If I didn’t sleep well the night before, or if the blood has left my brain to help digest my lunch, I get bored. But even when I didn’t sleep enough and it’s right after lunch, I’m almost never bored if I’m revising, which leads me to suspect that there’s a worry component to the boredom. I’m a confident reviser but not a confident first-draft writer. When it’s revision time the hardest work is over. Before then, though, I can still louse everything up. You may be most confident about the scenes that appeal to you, not so much about the others. I don’t know any better answer for boredom than to cope as well as we can. I write a few sentences, walk to my office window, write a few more sentences, pour myself a cup of tea, write a little more, hope that the boredom will pass, which it often does as I push on.
Occasionally, my boredom indicates a story problem. I’ve lost my way, and my characters are just wandering around. Or I’m pursuing an idea that I love and I’m pushing the story where it doesn’t want to go. I may blunder on this way, bored, for weeks before I realized what’s going on. Often then I have to find a better path for my story, which I usually locate through notes.
Boredom can be connected to writer’s block, so it may be helpful to go back to my post on the subject, called “Playing with Blocks” on October 28, 2009 or to look at the chapter in Writing Magic called “Stuck!”
It is not a crime to abandon a story that is boring you. You can come back to it if and when you have a new idea. Or you may be able to move the parts that interest you to a different story you’re working on. Or you can use these parts as the basis of an entirely new tale. The only writing crime is not writing.
Moving on to the writing-in-order question: I write in order too, although I admire writers who can hop around and sew everything together later. I discussed the question with a writer friend who does leap from scene to scene out of sequence, and she suggested you try her method and see what happens. It is possible that writing the scenes you’re eager for may help you discover what you need to do to tie them together, and you may become more interested in the in-between scenes.
If you stick with your method and mine, you might try slowing down the scenes you want to just get through, which may help with deepening your characters too. Suppose, for example, that your main character, Marka, is a runner. The scene that interests you most is the big race at the end of a summer of preparation. You have it all planned out: the perfect running shoes that go missing, the substitute shoes, the best friend running on Marka’s right, her enemy on the left, the leg cramp.
Maybe a few scenes interest you along the way: an argument with the enemy, shopping for running shoes with the best friend, a practice run when a new boy in school runs too. And that’s it. You hurry through the rest.
This may be the root of the flat-character problem. You may not know your characters well enough because you haven’t thrown them into a variety of situations. Look at the boring scenes. Maybe you can bring conflict into them too. Suppose you need a scene with the running team and the coach, but you’re not interested in it. Try thinking about some of the peripheral characters: Coach Bumbry, the slowest runner on the team, the girl who’s fast but her crazy form is incomprehensible. How does she move with her knees almost hitting her chin? What’s up with Coach Bumbry? Suppose she seems to care about every character on the team except your Marka. How does Marka deal with being ignored?
Take the slowest runner. Why is she on the team? How does she relate to Marka? Does Marka help her, stay away from her as if slowness might be catching, spy on her?
The girl with the weird form. What might Marka do with her?
You may want to expand your story. Maybe there’s some home conflict. Marka’s mom might be convinced that the time Marka spends running is the reason she’s flunking English. Marka’s dad may be irritable because he’s quitting smoking. Marka’s older brother may be applying for college and sucking up every scintilla of parental attention. Whatever. How does Marka react to all this?
If you throw Marka into lots of situations, if you complicate the boring scenes, you’ll know more about her when the climax arrives. Her actions are likely to be more layered; her thoughts will be surprising. And you may enjoy the writing more, too.
Prompt: Add three new scenes to one of your old stories or to a story you’re working on now. Put your main character into an. unfamiliar setting. Have him spend time with a minor character. Make someone he trusts surprise him in an unpleasant way. See what he does. If you need to adjust the rest of your story to accommodate the new scenes (if you’re happy with them), go for it. Have fun, and save what you write!