Friday, October 12, 2012

Lessons in How to Bore

If ever there were a more direct means of boring a reader than a deluge of unnecessary specifics, you have yet to discover it.  There is a possibility that you may discover such a way in your own work, thus this hope you apprehend the miscreant in your revision.

An example of what you mean:  “Fred returned home at his east-facing apartment at 7:23 that evening, which had already gone dark in spite of Daylight Savings Time because of the advance into the autumn equinox.  He climbed the twelve steps to his second-floor landing, then walked the thirty-two yards to his apartment door.”

None of these facts will have any additional relevance to the story.  If you wished to make this information yet more boring, you could add how most mornings, by virtue of the east-facing nature of the apartment, Fred was accustomed to being awakened by the rising sun.

You suspect there to be yet unexplored areas of boredom available were you to include some information about how fortunate Fred felt to have an east-facing apartment in this city and at such a favorable rent.  You’d be severely undercutting your purpose of demonstrating and inflicting boredom if you were to somehow make this material relevant to the story which, as you’re quick to observe, scarcely has a chance to sprout because all the details are blocking out that good, east-facing sun which might nourish and encourage it.

True enough, you could produce boredom at an entirely new level of sophistication by having Fred, as he fits his key in the door lock, hear the phone ringing, burst inside, nearly tripping over his cat, then catch the phone on the last ring before the answering machine picks up, allowing him to indulge a long, cute conversation with a friend.  Conversations, particularly when they are filled with one- or two-word exchanges such as “Yes,” and “Well,” and “Huh,” lapsing into the more prosaic, “Depends,” or “I see,” give us a shot at establishing some serious reader disinterest.

Looking at that exemplary opening, you see a missed opportunity.  Weather reports have had their moments in the long history of boring readers.  You could remind readers that even though it had gone dark at that hour, that time of year in that city had an otherworldly quality thanks to the occasional rain squalls or sundowner bursts of wind ruffling the trees which, after all, because it may have been autumn, but a gentle autumn, still had their leaves, which rustled, suggesting the languorous personality of the city as the more intense aspects of night drew down.

An author, questioned about such excesses, might smile patronizingly at you before informing you that these aspects were the very sorts of things Virginia Woolf might have set in place to give a proper sense of the world in which Fred and his associates moved.
Virginia Woolf would have done no such thing.  She was most considerate of her use of detail; invariably it had a purpose other than to bore.  Invariably her purpose produced interest, even though it may have been the interest of enigma.  But enigma is not boring unless it becomes like the unwanted splash of ketchup flying from the bottle after you’ve smacked its bottom with a heavy hand.

When you think of these elements of boredom, you shake your head in wonderment at all the times you were guilty of them because they were things you’d found in your early reading.  You believed these things were still necessary, that there had been no evolving progress in narrative, thus you set forth to do them and, believing you were on the track now to the point where you could nearly smell success with each new venture, you began to question why such work often left you bored.

You literally had to bore yourself out of it, and Fred in the bargain, which is to say you had to learn which characters carried an aura of boredom with them, only too eager to share it with whomever they could grab onto.

Now, when you see them coming, you have surprises for them.

No comments: