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10 Signs That Your Book Is Boring


No one has time to read a boring book, which means that no one really has time to write a boring book either. If you spent months or years stringing together enough sentences to form a book, you'd probably be devastated if you realized that you'd accidentally written a boring book. To prevent you from experiencing this kind of creative pain, keep reading for the top 10 signs that your book is boring.

1. Your early readers still haven't finished it

The first very strong clue that your book is boring is if your friends and relatives (also known as your beta readers) keep telling you that they have not finished reading it yet. Sure, there are times when life gets so busy that people have to set aside even the most riveting books, but when a book is truly compelling, people will make time to read it. A few weeks ago I was so engaged in a book that I balanced the book on my counter and held down the pages with rubber bands so I could keep reading while making my son's lunch. I want to your book to be so riveting that your beta readers find new ways to do old things just so they won't have to stop reading your story.

If one or two of your beta readers keeps saying they haven't finished your manuscript yet, but everyone else finished and gave you rave reviews, listen to the majority. Just assume that those few outliers are slow readers, or maybe they just haven't learned how to vacuum and read at the same time yet.

2. Your story lacks conflict and tension

Tension and conflict are the essential building blocks of any good story. At first it might pain you to create situations that prevent your beloved protagonist from achieving his or her dreams, but forcing your character to confront conflict will create and build the tension that compels people to keep reading.

If you are struggling to come up with conflicts for your characters, identify the main thing that each character is trying to achieve. Once you have identified each character's primary goals, look back over them and see if any characters' goals are in opposition. If so, you have just identified some natural conflict, so now you need to enhance and exploit it to increase the plot's tension.

Next, consider if your characters have internal struggles that are preventing them from achieving their goals. You've created the perfect blend of tension if your characters have to navigate a combination of internal personal conflict and external conflict with other characters before they can achieve their goals. Combining internal and external conflict means that each character has control over some aspect of the conflict, but there are additional aspects that are completely out of their control.

3. Your main characters don't grow or change

If your characters do not grow or change over the course of the story, stop and consider the purpose of your story and what you want readers to take away from it. Now take a moment to think about your daily life and the random situations that have shaped you or inspired you. In real life, people change and grow because of their experiences and relationships, so your characters should grow and change too if you want them to feel real. The best books feature complex characters that remind readers of people they know or people they've encountered at some point along the way.

4. You include long descriptions of things that don't matter

Have you ever read one of those books in which the writer spends three pages describing the distant mountain vistas, and then at the end of the book you realize that the characters never saw those mountain vistas again and the mountain vistas did not affect the plot at all? Long, rambling descriptions of inconsequential things are telltale signs of a boring book. Sure, there might be some interesting parts between those verbose, useless descriptions, but most people will never discover those plot points because they abandoned the book the second time the author spent three pages describing a rock.

5. You tell the story instead of showing it

"Show, don't tell" is one of the first lessons in writing or storytelling. If you just tell your readers what happened in the story, your book will feel like a newspaper article that is just trying to convey facts. Ideally, your words will paint clear pictures for readers so they know that your protagonist is frustrated because of the way she picks at her nails but you never actually state that she is frustrated.

6. Your dialogue isn't realistic

Few things are as painful (or as boring) as reading bad dialogue. Since most people engage in conversations as part of daily life, they can tell the difference between good and bad dialogue. In real life, even when everyone is speaking the same language, each person puts a unique spin on it through vocabulary choices, favorite phrases, cadence, delivery, or gestures.

7. Readers don't feel invested in the outcome

If readers don't feel invested in your story or if they don't care what happens to your characters, they will not continue reading. Ideally, you will grip readers on the first page by opening your story with an exciting or intriguing scene. However you decide to open your story, remember that you have a limited number of pages to convince people to continue reading. If I don't feel invested in a book after reading the first 100 pages, I abandon it and add it to my Did Not Finish list. However, my 100-page grace period seems generous compared to other avid readers: One friend gives a book 20 pages before she decides to set it down, while another friend gives only each book 10 pages to convince her that it's worth her time. Therefore, do everything you can to ensure that the beginning of your book is not boring.

8. The events don't build on one another

I heard a writer say once that his writing excelled once he stopped writing "and then" and shifted to "so then." Essentially he realized that in good stories, everything is connected and every part of the story builds upon the previous parts. If you use the "and then" structure, you've presented two things or events that may or may not be related, but when you shift to the "so then" structure, the first thing absolutely has to happen before the second thing could occur.

Go through your manuscript and evaluate all of your major plot points to see if they are "so then" moments or "and then" moments. If they are "and then" moments, find ways to shift them into "so then" moments. If you ensure that every point contributes to another point later in the story, you will build tension and keep people reading.

9. The story is predictable

Very few people want to read a predictable story, because most people associate predictable with boring. If you feel like your story is too predictable, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen at this point in the story?
  • What are the protagonist's biggest fears, and how would he or she behave if forced to confront those fears at this point in the story?
  • What will readers expect to happen here? Consider this question if you want your protagonist to do the opposite of what readers might expect.
  • What motivates your protagonist and your antagonist? Once you identify their internal motivations, consider how those motivations might lead them to make choices that surprise the reader.

10. You feel bored writing it

A boss once told me that people can hear you smiling through the phone, and a similar point is true with writing: Readers can tell when writers are bored with their own material. If you feel bored with your manuscript, start by taking a break and working on something else for a while. If the story still feels boring when you finally revisit it, ask your loved ones for input on how to bring it back to life. If you are part of a writing group (which I highly recommend), ask your fellow writers for suggestions. Most of all, listen to your instinct. If you are bored with the material, your readers will be bored too, and we've already established that no one has time to read (or write) boring books.

If any of these points seem to be speaking directly to you, don't worry! That's the beautiful thing about writing: You can write your way out of a boring story. Keep revisiting the 10 tips above until you are certain that you book doesn't contain any of the top 10 signs of a boring book. Your future readers will thank you.

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