The Parts Readers Skip: Cutting The Boring Shit

Fuck this, I’m out of here.

I was trundling along though my daily word count* yesterday when I reached it: the boring part.

Fuck, I don’t want to write this, I thought as I reached for my monkey skull full of bourbon and souls.** The main character’s just staring and thinking, I know it goes here, and after the Great Plotline Disaster of ’08, I’ve committed to writing mostly in order, but this part is boring.

And then it occurred to me: if it’s that fucking boring, why write it at all?

Because it has backstory, and you need to set up That Big Thing, nagged the Internal Keeper of the Outline/Spreadsheet. And because it’s right there on the plan. Look.

So, I looked, and I thought, and then I cut that scene. The Spreadsheet Keeper whined about it, but I stuffed her into a steamer trunk somewhere and broke the lock. I can still hear her thumping at the lid and screaming obscenities at me***, but you get used to it. Also, I’m having a heavy metal morning, so it blends into the music.

I wrote about Elmore Leonard back when he got shelved****, and it’s another piece of his writing advice that comes back to me now: “Try to leave out the parts that readers skip”. If readers are going to skip it—or worse, get bored by it and drop the book entirely—why bother to write it? Everything that I was going to do in that scene—setting up That Big Thing, exploring the family, maybe hinting at a murder—can be folded into other scenes with more finesse. And far less of the protagonist staring off into space and remembering the Not So Good Ol’ Days.

I’m still not entirely sure about this decision. I might reconsider later, when I’m trying to dribble backstory in between stabbings. But for now it seems right. Cut the boring parts, because if I want to skip it, you can be goddamn sure the reader will.
*Yes, I have a daily word count. It keeps me on track and makes sure I don’t have too many ‘ah, fuck it’ days. I even have a list where I track how well I’m keeping up.
**Relax, it’s a ceramic monkey skull. The bourbon’s real, though. And the souls.
***Yes, even my spreadsheet Keeper is a potty mouth.
****I’ve got some of his books next on my re-reading list and I can’t wait. *Pours out some bourbon and souls for Leonard*

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4 thoughts on “The Parts Readers Skip: Cutting The Boring Shit

  1. Elmore Leonard definitely is one to listen to when it comes to advice, and skipping the boring parts is great advice.

    But, there are times in a novel when things need to calm down for a minute. That may seem boring, but that’s part of the rollercoaster effect you need to shoot for. Heightened tension, time to breathe/reflect, then more action/tension, and so on.

    I think the key is that when you get to the boring parts, you incorporate some little nugget of information or piece of character that may come up again later on. In other words, use the boring parts to foreshadow and seed things to come again. That way, when it does come up and the reader gripes about it coming out of the blue you can say, nah-uh, go back to that boring part you skipped…It’s right there, if you’d been paying attention. Not so boring now, is it?

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