This was going to be another writing tips segment before I realized that the inspiration for posting it came from life. And that, in fact, this advice has far broader reach than the written word.
If you want me to feel bored, the best thing you can do is to begin your (whatever — book, speech, pep talk, conversation) with a statement of ennui. Maybe that’s what you want, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most of the time it isn’t.
Writers want readers engaged with their story — not that spot on the wall that really could use a touch up the next time I get a few dollars and a few minutes to paint. As if I ever have a few minutes. And as if when I do I want to paint. Or read this book. What’s it about again?
Yesterday afternoon I volunteered to help with the Just Run after school program at my children’s elementary school. It’s a program for 2nd-5th graders encouraging healthy lifestyles. They meet twice a week after school to, well, run. Or walk. Or jog. Or whatever you can manage. (I’ll be shoring up the back of the group!)
But the first day wasn’t about running. It was about yawning. No…it was about explaining the program and the rules. Sorry. My bad. Seventy students aged seven to ten (with a few younger ones belonging to the volunteers, including my five-year-old whose wiggle worm tendencies were on hyperdrive) sat in the gym and were told, in no uncertain terms, that this was going to be a BORING meeting but we just had to get through it.
“Mommy, can I go home now?” Doh! I’m the mommy. Guess not.
Look, I’m not trying to put anyone down. I’m actually excited about the program for both my kids and myself (I’m starting couch to 5k again). The thing is, some basic psychological truth can really help get things off on the right foot. And get us through the boring rules faster.
“Is everyone excited to start JUST RUN?” (Said in the voice of a somewhat charismatic leader.) “We’re going to have a great time running this year. But in order to have a great time, do you know what we need to do? We need to be safe, respectful…” (And you know what? I can’t remember the other rules but I’m sure they were important.)
No one wants to feel bored, and as soon as we do our attentions begin to wander. The wiggle worms get called out for it because they’re disturbing everyone else and seeming to make the whole process take longer. But speaking as the idyllic teacher’s pet, I can assure you that even the quiet kids aren’t with you if they’re bored. They just *seem* that way. I learned a long time ago how to leave my body behind while my mind went to la-la land. There I stayed, spinning stories and fantasies that were the precursors to the novels I write today.
I haven’t outgrown that tendency. I might be a grown-up, but I can still think about Madison’s Song while other adults try to keep a room full or kids paying attention to boring rules. I’ve decided to cut the first chapter, I think. It was really a sort of exploratory venture anyway… something to help me fix Madison’s personality in my mind. It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story so it needs to go. I’m just not sure what to replace it with. I had a couple of ideas yesterday afternoon. If my 5-year-old were a little less wiggly, I might have managed…
Responsibility! Right. And we’re here to encourage one another, not discourage one another. No making fun of the slow pokes at the back.
Writers — to you I say this: I know you have to juggle a hundred rules about what to do and what not to do when beginning a story. Don’t start with a dream. Don’t start with waking up. Don’t start with dialog. Don’t start with a pronoun. Don’t…
But in my opinion, if you can only remember one rule, it’s this:
Don’t start with boredom. If your main character’s problem in the first paragraph is that she’s bored or tired, I’m going to feel that way too. The feeling is contagious that way.