Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Un-Crafting Boredom

Indulging in curiosity is a favorite pastime of mine. Unfortunately, I haven't been gifted with nine lives, regardless of my kitty avatar. Fortunately, this habit has resulted in a great many bizarre experiences -- which result in excellent story fodder.

Well, except for the fact that since truth is often stranger than fiction, all of life must be edited for logic and probability factors. That is, the stories we tell must make sense -- even when life often doesn't.

Like most of you writers out there, I'm a people-watcher as well. Back when I was a geeky little kid, I was the girl sitting on the bench in the mall watching people go by. I was mostly interested in observations on human behavior. (And it is true that if you stare at a person's feet, they'll become uncomfortable and try to hide them.) One thing I've learned by all of this watching is that people bore easily.

The Boring of Humans: It's true. With the advent of civilization, where humans were less likely to spend 24/7 on survival issues, humans learned the craft of boredom. There are many ways to become bored, but the one I found most enlightening was via other humans. If you watch a group of two or more people for long, you will start to see the slightly glazed over looks, the desperate glances around the room, the tapping of feet.

  • Distractions: Unless the story relates to them personally, humans will often start thinking about the coffee pot left on, the price of oil, that strange little girl across the way, watching so intently.

  • Ping-Pong Stories: Worse, humans don't listen particularly well. This is because they're often bursting with a "return-serve" story that is so much more interesting than the one they're listening to. You can tell, too, since they're practically vibrating with the need to spill.

  • Long-Winded Speakers: Sometimes, it's not the listener's fault. There are story tellers who never wind down, who never allow for reflection or interaction or reciprocation. These are the bane of any hostess, since all her guests flee in fear.
Why does any of this matter to the writer? I believe that writers are but the reflections of society and God: we comment upon the broad themes of existence, just as we seek to create. We weave the two acts together into a tapestry of literary art, and we pray that we resonate with our readers. We can only do that if we don't bore them.
Crafting the Un-Boredom:
  • Time for Identifying: Regardless of the fact that we're now "civilized" and few of us contemplate the need to survive on a minute-by-minute basis, we humans are still hard-wired to survive. We listen to stories because we want to find that bit of truth that will help us negotiate our way through this chaotic, confusing, sometimes cold life. This equates identifying: we need to see ourselves in the books we read. If we can picture ourselves as the hero/heroine, we're better invested in the meat of the message -- whether we're vampires or cowboys, zombies or English Lit professors.

  • Time for Reflection: High action, all the time, doesn't seem to fit the concept of "boring" -- and yet, if there is no relief from the tension, readers don't have the opportunity to reflect on the message, find themselves in the plot, or understand the survival tidbit. It's overwhelming. The oddity is this: when writers pull back and allow for a moment of downtime, humor, or even observations on life, readers can respond more fully. We can find the real-world application to our plight in life, become more fully invested in the storyline, and engage once more in the text.

  • Time for Interaction: This is a bit more difficult for a writer to consciously achieve. But it's vital for writers to remember reading truly is a communal event. Survival information is not meant to be hoarded but shared. And when humans find the information they need, they can't help but pass it on to friends, family, and future in-laws. Remember how many of your "new book" experiences come via recommendation? After all, how did Twilight become a phenomenon? It certainly wasn't because readers kept their reading habits secret...
We must pique the curiosity of our readers, but we must also engage them, draw them in, and allow them the opportunity to find themselves in our work. It's occurred to me, time after time of meeting some writers, that we are, at times, the center of our collective universe. Some of us think that we write for ourselves. This couldn't be further from the truth: it's not about us. It's about the reader.

4 comments:

  1. Alex - What an interesting post! You're absolutely right that it's important for the writer to keep the reader's perspective in mind. If we take the time to create stories with which the reader can identify, and give the reader a good reason to talk about the story with others, we've created something special.

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  2. What a fantastically observant and enjoyable post! I think you're spot on. Thanks.

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  3. I read my book all the time looking for things to improve. There are chapters I love reading and others not so much. The 'not so much' chapters need to be like the rest but getting there is the hard part.

    They're identified. lol I have my work cut out for me. Thanks Alex.

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  4. Wow, I just love this post. This post is Awesomesauce. Wrapped in bacon. I've read it five times already.

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