The Good Parts Version

A post at Kill Zone Blog: Cutting the DULL from Your Scenes

We talk a lot here at TKZ about opening pages. We all know how important they are to agents, editors, and readers. But we should think the same way about every scene in our novel. And thus to the topic for today: Cutting the DULL from your scenes. To wit

And then James Scott Bell goes on to identify failures that lead to boredom in the following four categories:

Description Dumps: Always describe your scenes in words that reflect the tone, which you’ll most often find in the mind of the viewpoint character.

Uninteresting Characters: When you think about the scene you’re going to write, plan one action (even if it’s just a line of dialogue) a reader won’t see coming. A good practice is to make a quick list of the things the average reader might expect to happen…then don’t do those things.

Lethargic Action: The story question should involve death stakes (physical, professional, or psychological). Otherwise, why should the reader care?

Leaden Prose: Try things. Make up wild metaphors, not to use (necessarily) but to stretch. Read challenging prose, even in nonfiction. Read poetry out loud.

Well, boring description, characters, action, and prose does pretty much does seem to cover the topic, yes. More at the link, of course, but I was more curious about the proposed solutions, so those are the bits I pulled out. A lot of the time, the solutions to problems like the above are things like Be lively in your writing, which isn’t very helpful. I am, of course, not nearly analytical enough to pause and think Now what is something the reader won’t see coming? I hope I surprise the reader on a pretty consistent basis without having to stop and think about how to surprise the reader.

However, a suggestion to read poetry seems more useful, doesn’t it? That actually seems like a really good suggestion! I like poetry, of course, and perhaps that was useful in developing my ability to write. Yes, certainly, by all means: read poetry to develop a feel for language! Bell suggests Robert W. Service. I have not, to the best of my knowledge, encountered this poet previously. Let me find a poem by Robert W. Service. All right, here:

A Grain Of Sand

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

All right, I do like that. I just clicked on the first poem title that caught my eye, so I had no idea what to expect. Fine, sure, let’s see what Amazon happens to have available … ah, look at this: here is a book of Robert Service’s collected poetry for $0.99, if you would like a Kindle version. Okay, I’m picking it up because at that price why not. I like something short to read at bedtime, right before I turn off the lights.

Please Feel Free to Share:


8 thoughts on “The Good Parts Version”

  1. Robert W Service! I used to have The Cremation of Sam McGee memorized and can still produce key sections, but I hadn’t read the poem you cited. Maybe I will pick up that book.

  2. This is really interesting to me because just in the past couple of weeks, I read a newsletter from literary author Brandon Taylor who’s been teaching a writing workshop and found that the most useful advice he could give to his students was “_try_ to bore me,” that in avoiding “boringness” people were keeping back important context and information so they could more dramatically reveal it later, leaving the reader a bit lost!

    I’m unsure the link will make it through the post, but if it doesn’t it’s the post titled “The Virtues of the Boring Draft” at blgtylr dot substack dot com:

  3. That is a REALLY good and interesting point, Sandstone! The link looks fine from here, but I’ll go through the front side of this website and check to make it looks fine that way as well.

    This sounds a lot like saying, “Quit starting in the middle of the action! Give me CONTEXT!” which I have also heard and completely agree with.

  4. My first reaction to the desire to keep everything interesting is that it can lead to the whole story being on one note of tension, which is itself boring. you need ups and downs. You also need to know enough to worry or care at all..

    The teen was going on about different ways of describing people yesterday, with examples of different fanfics describing the same character rather differently, one done with a clear personality of the POV coming through one being rather more staid but with – I believe – attempts to write ‘lively’ that don’t quite work. I’ll see if I can get those examples and pass them on.

  5. Those would be interesting examples, Elaine, so I hope The Teen will find them without too much trouble!

  6. I’ve got them now – some are rather long. I’ll send them to your email and you can decide whether to post or break it up or whatever.

  7. I really stumbled over the break in the rythm of the whole poem on the last lines,
    “I think Life’s mystery might be
    Solved in this grain of sand.”

    As a poet who knows what he’s doing with words, I expect he did it deliberately to make a point.
    But the pattern of stresses on the words doesn’t read right to me unless I read it as
    “I think Life’s mystery might be solved
    In this grain of sand.”
    where the stresses shift from v- for the first line to -v for the last line. (v = unstressed, – = stressed)

    Which totally breaks the flow of the poem, and nakes me dislike it as it feels broken instead of interesting, which it was until that point.
    Maybe I’m overly sensitive to meter?

    Is that a characteristic of his work, does he break the meter and rythm of his poems often, either to make a point or because it’s something he finds less important?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top