4 Surefire Ways to Bore Your Readers to Death

by Guest Blogger | 31 comments

This guest post is by Melissa Chu. Melissa helps people get productive and develop good work habits. You can download the free guide that shows you how to develop a framework to achieve your writing goals, so that you can start writing exciting work for your readers today.

Right now, I’m at the point where I’ve just finished writing a long piece of work. I hope it’s good. There’s just one thing about it that’s keeping me up at night, though.

I’m afraid my writing is boring.

4 Surefire Ways to Bore Your Readers to Death

Not everyone is so afraid of writing something that's boring. I know some writers who think they have a lot to share. They ramble on non-stop, unaware that the listeners have turned into zombies. Others, however, are so self-conscious that when given a choice, they choose to write nothing at all.

Turns out, it’s not easy to write something that is interesting.

How Do You Know Your Writing Is Boring?

There aren’t any visible signs. You obviously can't see your readers yawn, or watch them fall asleep while reading your writing. Chances are people won’t even tell you when you're writing is boring.

However, boring writing has a tendency to follow similar patterns. If you can detect them, you can eliminate these mistakes from your writing.

Let’s go over four ways you might bore your readers:

1. Boring writing uses ten words when five would have been better

If you are using extraneous words and letters to get your points across, right now may be the perfect, most wonderful, and truly beautiful time to cut them out.

Phew, that was a mouthful. Please, don’t do what I just did.

Using words that add no value tires readers out. The prime suspects of useless words are usually adverbs and adjectives. The next time you run across one, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”

Don’t be afraid to cut words if they do nothing to move the story forward.

When you first start writing, use words as generously as you want. Go ahead and sprinkle descriptions liberally. But when you go back to edit your writing, pluck out the fluffy ones, leaving behind only the precious gems.

2. Boring writing describes everything under the sun

Writers often believe more is better, that if you share all your ideas about a subject, describe everything in the scene in perfect detail, or write out every trivial word of trivial dialogue, your readers will soak them all up like a sponge.

The problem is your readers have limited attention spans. Too much information leads to overwhelm and causes your readers to wonder what the point was.

See if this applies to your own writing. Have you ever done any of the following examples?

  • Over explain your protagonist's decision-making process, for example, listing three reasons to travel to a destination.
  • Describe each piece of furniture in your protagonist's bedroom
  • Report the weather better any weather man
  • Analyze your protagonist's emotions more fully than a teenager's diary

Instead of being promiscuous with your writing, be picky. You don’t need to reveal everything. A little mystery will make your writing better.

3. Boring writing sounds like a robot (AKA eerily similar to an encyclopedia)

Writing can be an ugly, imperfect process. And that’s what makes it exciting.

Readers want to know there’s a real human behind your words, one who struggled and toiled to create something that moves people.

To captivate your readers with your raw human side, use these methods:

  • Be vulnerable: Maybe your character has serious commitment issues? or a few scars in his or her past?
  • Have an opinion: Don’t you just hate it when people are undecided?
  • Show a few personality quirks: Like the character who can’t stop curling her toes when she’s nervous.

Write in a way that lets people know what you stand for. In non-fiction, take a stance on a topic and defend it doggedly. Don’t be afraid to express your side of the story.

If you write fiction, make sure your characters are taking action and making decisions. Don't let them be swept up by the story, but force them to decide on a course and accept the consequences of their decision.

4. Boring writing keeps injecting facts, facts, and more facts

I used to think that just throwing all sorts of facts at readers would show them how much detail and care went into my writing.

Little did I know, my infodumping was actually putting them to sleep.

If you want readers to learn something, do it within the context of something interesting. People respond to emotions, not facts. Share a story. Like that time you accidentally stepped into a bathtub full of eels (caught you, didn't I?).

Ask a friend to read over your writing. Watch his expressions as his eyes scan through the piece. If there are parts where he seems bored or confused, you’re delving too deep into the facts.

Learn more about infodumping and how you can avoid it here.

How NOT To Bore Your Readers

Even though I’ve outlined how to avoid boring your readers, there isn’t an exact formula you can use to make your writing interesting.

But you can improve your chances if you genuinely enjoy what you put out to the world. Embrace your words. Show people you care.

If you do, they’ll come back for more.

What do you think? What is one way to keep your writing from being boring? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Today, let’s pretend we’re a woman named Janice. She’s going about her day as usual when she sees something that makes her heart start pounding. Why does it feel like her heart’s going to burst? What does she do?

Practice writing her scenario for fifteen minutes. Afterward, share in the comments section and remember to leave feedback on someone else’s writing as well.

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31 Comments

  1. Rae Elliott

    These were great tips! I liked the point of leaving mystery and how not revealing every detail can be alluring to the reader. I often tell myself that if I’m bored writing the scene, the reader will be bored reading it. Good stuff, and thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      That’s a really great point Rae! I find the same happens to me. If I’m not enjoying my writing, it tends to show.

  2. dduggerbiocepts

    This is a very difficult subject to describe effectively, largely because it depends on the genre you are writing for. For example historic fiction readers are far more tolerant of facts than say romance readers. Science fiction readers lab up the scientific detail that supports the logic of the stories premise. Conversely, action adventure fiction readers are going to be less tolerant to character details and their emotional minutia compared to dramatic fiction and or romance.

    Practically – the best way to get around boring excesses is to read the most successful authors in the genre in which you are writing. Then analyze how they prioritize, proportion and interject necessary detail without sacrificing reader interest. We should all avoid detail as filler. Because in writing “filler” has the same effect of diluting flavor and satisfaction – as in food.

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      I agree that different types of readers are tolerant of the level of detail and facts in a book. I do think, though, that facts should be provided within a context. When readers go through a passage, they think, “why should I read this? How does it tie in to the story?”

      Studying successful authors’ works is a good way to learn about what makes a good read. Everyone has their own writing style but learning from others can help you develop your own voice.

      Thanks for your comments!

    • dduggerbiocepts

      I think we are probably saying the same thing, but (there’s always a but) if your reader is thinking about “context” or anything other than the story – you’re losing them or you’ve lost them already. When I read, I’m either in the story – or not. If I’m not. Then it won’t be long before I’m looking for a different story and probably a different author. In a good story, if the room you are currently in doesn’t disappear from your peripheral vision you are not in the story. If you are aware of the book, the font, or even your significant other, etc., you’re not in the story. When I’m reading a good book, the end of the world would pass me by in my unawares. This exclusionary reader focus is the sure sign of a great story and a great story teller. I’m not sure I’ll ever qualify, but those are my goals.

    • Melissa Chu

      Good points. Yes I think it does come down to whether or not you feel like you’re really engrossed with the story.

      Hope your writing is going well, and I’m sure with continued practice, you can go very far in your story telling and crafting. 🙂

    • Auria Jourdain

      I totally agree with you, dduggerbiocepts…the genre does make a difference. I write historical romance, so pertinent facts, accuracy, and backstory are extremely important to me no matter what genre I read, as well as the overall emotional element that ties a hero/ heroine/villian together. When I research, I do so as if a history professor might grade me on it. Indeed, I am guilty of too much backstory, including long, flowery sentences with adjectives thrown around left and right. I’ve gotten better the more I write. But as a reader, that’s what I love about Dan Brown’s novels. Yes, he’s wordy, but all writing is subjective to the reader, and personally, by the end of the novel, I want to know all the sordid details. I hate short, choppy sentences that disrupt the flow of a story (see number 1). More than anything, I hate reading novels with incomplete sentences. I’ve read a lot of contemporary fiction where authors will write a fragment and pass it off as a sentence to make a point. Drives me crazy! (my attempt at an example;)) My point is–and it follows along with what you stated–writing is a form of art, subjective to the people that read our books. All of us have our likes and dislikes, and our writing styles are often reflective of the genres we love to read. I’m not an best-selling author by any means. I try to emulate my two favorite historical authors because I love their style, and as a writer, that’s what works for me.

  3. LilianGardner

    I’m always pleased when you tell writers to cut out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
    A post of excellent advice . Thanks Joe.

    Reply
  4. Krithika Rangarajan

    You made me smile! #HUGSS

    Kitto

    Reply
  5. Emmluu

    Great advice! I will definitely be using these tips as well as reading the article links within each tip! Thank you!!!

    Reply
  6. Kenneth M. Harris

    Janice strolled through union park. She watched the kids in the playground. Her cell phone chimed. “Hello!” She put her hand on her chest and laughed so hard that she clutched the back of the bench. “I…I…” She sighed. “Okay, I’ll …I’ll….give you ten minutes” The laughter got deeper as she wiped her eyes. She always seems to shed tears whenever her laughter became uncontrollable.

    I can’t believe that I agreed to
    this, she thought aloud and giggled.
    She turned around and there he was.

    “Who am I?” He smiled and took both of her hands.

    She took a deep breath and thought a moment.

    “You are Major!”

    “That right!” He yelled. He wrapped his arms around her.

    “I told you that even though you have a twin brother, I would be able to tell you apart.” She laid her head on his shoulder.

    “Okay, how did you know,”

    “Usually, when I run into Eric, he never smiles right away. After a minute, He says Hello and he smiles. You always grab my hands first and you’re so bubbly.” She giggled and they laughed together.

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      Hey Kenneth,

      Hmm, I’m intrigued by who Major is. Is he a friend of Janice…or something more? This makes me curious as to what their relationship is to each other and how it will evolve.

    • Kenneth M. Harris

      Melissa, you made my day. Major is Janice boyfriend. However, he has a twin brother. They joked about her being able to tell them apart. KEn

  7. Kenneth M. Harris

    Melissa, This section is RIGHT ON! Each time I receive a chapter or section on writing, it’s amazing, how much I have learned. All of this is just great. I took the character of Janice and tried to make her funny and a character. Thanks again, Melissa
    KEN

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      Glad you enjoyed reading the piece Kenneth! Thanks for creating a story about Janice as well!

  8. Reagan Colbert

    I’m afraid I am guilty of number 2. I have been told that my style is poetic, and I tend to go on and on about the surroundings. you need to put your readers in the scene, though, so I guess it’s a fine line.

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      Thanks for your comments Reagan. It can get tempting to talk about every possible detail to your reader. Details can be important, but at other times, they can be long-winded. Asking a friend to reader over a piece is one of the best ways to figure out what changes should be made.

  9. Patrick

    Janice looked at the ticket she pre-ordered on her phone. Her excitement to watch the new anime movie, which she waited for six months to be dubbed in English, was unmatched by any other fan. Only a few hours until-
    Wait.
    Janice’s heart started to beat faster and faster by the second. She could have sworn she chose the 6:00 PM showtime, but her ticket read 4:30 PM. She and several of her friends had planned to meet up for the 6:00 PM showtime. Janice only had ten minutes to change her ticket.

    Janice ran through the mall, yelling, “Excuse me!” without end. What if she missed her chance? What if she would have to experience the movie without her friends, the friends who introduced her to the anime series in the first place?!

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      Hi Patrick,

      I enjoyed this little short story and that Janice managed to get her ticket changed to the right time. I’m curious about what it was like for her to run through the mall. Was it bustling with swarms of teenagers? Was Janice short of breath?

      Thanks for your story!

    • Kenneth M. Harris

      Patrick, very, very good short piece. I wanted her to be able to change the ticket. Thanks, I felt her nervousness.! KEN

  10. juanita couch

    Janice stood at the kitchen sink. This is the third time she found herself staring off into the horizon. “This is not like me. I don’t usually get distracted by nothing.”
    She shrugged it off and busied herself again trying to revive the shine that had been neglected while she was ill.
    Five hours later Janice brought back the reluctant shine and collapsed on the sofa. She closed her eyes and drifted off. When she woke, to her dismay it was late in the afternoon. Henry wasn’t home from work she realized as she brought herself back to consciousness.
    “Henry has never been late for supper in our sixteen years of marriage.”
    Janice went into the kitchen and removed the meat out of the refrigerator that she was preparing for supper. The phone rang, bringing her out of her thoughts.
    “Hello, Mrs. Lewis, this is Dr. Langborn.”
    “Yes, Dr. Langborn what can I do for you?”
    “Henry came to my office today and I had to admit him to the hospital. He has had a heart attack. He is stable. You need to go to St. James Hospital. He keeps asking for you.”
    Janice turned pale as she hung up the phone.

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      Hi Juanita,

      Oh yikes, I feel sorry for Janice. A stable, long-term marriage and then a sudden unfortunate event. I’m curious to know what their lives together are like and the story of how they met. Visiting Henry in the hospital looks like the perfect place for flashback stories. Thanks for writing!

  11. concordriverlady

    This was the best part of the day–dusk. Janice stood at the kitchen sink, washing the day’s dishes, as she watched the birds darting back and forth amongst the feeders. The assortment of birds astounded her. Northern Cardinals, chikadees, titmice, song sparrows, even the American Goldfinches, in their brilliant yellow glory, were present tonight. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a shadow moving along the ground. Damn, the neighbor’s cat! With the stealth of a courgar, it moved slow and steadily toward the feeder. Not on my watch, Janet thought, her hands wrapping around a knife still wet from the rinse water. “Let’s get it on, you bird eating predator!”

    Reply
    • Melissa Chu

      Hey concordriverlady,

      Your story really made me laugh at the end! I like how you created a gradual build up from a calm, soothing day to a sudden, dramatic event. I wonder what happens to the cat!

    • concordriverlady

      Thank you for your kind comment.the cat got away.

  12. T.

    Oh, I definitely agree with what you are saying. But I wonder why many authors don’t subscribe to that wisdom and yet they sell tons of books. I just finished reading a Danielle Steel novel (the first of hers that I have ever read) and my radar was going off constantly; she, in her telling of a great story, broke every writer’s rule, it seemed. Run-on sentences, redundancy, and waaay too much descriptive references, I felt, clogged up the storyline, and things I wished she’d dished about more were only briefly skimmed over (we were told every detail about people’s appearances, the cars they drove, and the houses they lived in, but the great love scene, for instance, was one sentence long). Now, I am not picking on Ms. Steel–she can sure tell a story, and she has a gift for making the reader care about her characters–but the whole thing makes me wonder if fretting over techniques and rules as I go may create enough anxiety that the story I long to tell will hang in the limbo of frustration while others who are not as concerned successfully turn them out one after another. 🙂

    Reply
    • Debby Howes Kerr

      Your point is spot on. Look at Fifty Shades of Grey. Not very well written but boy did she (E.L. James) capture something. I think if it came down to it, I would rather write something that captured an audience than be a “great” writer. After all, it’s about entertaining our readers, isn’t it?

  13. Hannah

    Janice felt strange today. She wasn’t sure why. She didn’t do anything different from her normal routine. She woke up, went on a short jog, ate breakfast, got dressed and went to her work, where she was a secretary for a women’s health clinic. And the day before she had done the same thing, just as she always had. But today she felt different. It had started when Janice woke up that morning. It was the most eerie feeling, like she was watching the world go by, separate from it herself. Like she was some other entity that had nothing to do with anything. But Janice went about her day, not knowing what else to do, trying to ignore the feeling and hoping it would go away if she just put it out of her mind. It only grew the more she tried to distract herself, though. It felt like a noose, tightening around her brain, making her think of nothing but it. She couldn’t focus on her work so she took an early break, going outside to have a smoke, hoping it would help ease her mind. It did, but that was her mistake.
    It happened while she was out there, closing her eyes and breathing in the chemicals, her guard down. From the alleyway just to her right came the most horrifying sound Janice ever had and ever would hear. It was deep and throaty, with a slight growl in it. It made little clicking noises, like in the movie Predator, almost muffled by the rest. Janice’s pulse quickened, her breathing slowed almost to a stop. She dropped the hand holding the cigarette to her side. She was silent, afraid, not sure what to do. Then it came again, this time louder, closer. She gave out a little gasp and her hands started to shake, dropping the cigarette onto the rough pavement.
    “He-hello?” She called out nervously but received only silence. She took a step forward, toward the entrance to her work, wanting nothing but to get away from this whole nightmarish day. But she was stopped quickly. It was that eerie fog in her head, clouding her thoughts with a dreary emptiness. It tightened, making her step back to stand where she was. Then to the right a little. And a little more. Slowly she inched sideways, making her way to the entrance of the alley. She whimpered involuntarily, fear crippling her will to fight this. The second she stepped in front of the alley, she slid backwards, taking her deeper into it. The noise came again, this time right behind her. She was frozen by fear. Tears streamed down her face and her hands were clenched to keep them from shaking, making them numb. The world began to pale around her, making everything seem bleak and hopeless. Something warm and wet, yet somehow at the same time cold as ice, breathed in her ear, brushing her hair aside smoothly. She squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to shut the world out, wanting for everything to stop.
    But it didn’t, and when the thing spoke, her thoughts froze, her body shivered worse than when she had gotten hypothermia in the ninth grade Her whole being wanted to fold in on itself and just die, but she couldn’t. It’s voice felt like someone had taken a cheese grater to her brain. “I’ll be back for you,” was all it said.
    She felt a whoosh behind her, and she knew the thing was gone. And so was the eerie feeling that had been controlling her all day. Janice felt normal again. She took a shaky breath and opened her eyes. Everything was as it had been. The world was no longer leached of color but bright with the summer sun’s rays lighting it. She stood alone in the alley for a few moments, still stuck in place from the lingering fear of the last few minutes’ events.
    Finally she moved forward, walking to the entrance of the clinic, going inside and sitting at her desk. The world was back to normal. But she wasn’t. The thing’s message played over and over in her head, she couldn’t get it out. It would be back for her. Somehow she knew. She knew that it wouldn’t be long before it decided to come after her again. She didn’t know why any of this happened, or why it happened to her.
    But she did know one thing more surely than she’d ever been about anything. She knew she’d be dead by the end of the day.

    Reply
  14. Jason Chapman

    Dan Brown can go into way too much detail

    Reply
  15. Mayu-Mayu Shiro

    There it was again, the pounding. She’s overreacting but she can’t help it. Gulping, Janice tried calming herself down as she wait for the figure to reach her. He looked like a simple human. But someone like her, and maybe only her, can feel the power radiate from him in waves that it’s actually making her tremble and feel like a little girl thinking about going in the bathroom alone at night. “Janice,” he smile didn’t reach his eyes and it was cold and creepy. “I believe we should take a seat somewhere since it’s gonna be a long talk.” The pounding of her heart was faster. “Of course.” was all Janice managed with a straight face. She can feel the power from him like feeling the hot humid in the air. She’s never good at confrontations and she’ll never be. “I believe your abilities are the one in question in our topic.” he said and walked. Janice followed him reluctantly. If this goes wrong, the monsters may yet again be harder to control than ever.

    Reply

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