Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Writing Tips Tuesday: Boredom is Poopy by Amelia Gaylord

My daughter's knowledge is limited.

Don't get me wrong, for a 7 month old, Amelia's a freakin' genius. She's crawling like crazy, she loves clapping her hands, and she knows that our dog is pretty much the coolest being in the world. That's pretty darn good. 

But at this point, the finer points of character development, plot structure, and believable dialog escape her. 

"So," you might ask, "what does Amelia know about writing?" 

She knows something very important, something we all need to keep in mind.

She knows that the worst thing you can do as a writer is bore your audience. 

Like a good game of peek-a-boo, you can shock your audience. Like our dog when he's playing tug-of-war, you can scare your audience (it's the growling, it scares her). Like a new rattle, you can thrill your audience.

But don't you dare bore your audience. Ever. Amelia is not a fussy child. She really only cries when she's hungry, poopy, or bored. 

Did you catch that? To Amelia, being bored is about the equivalent to sitting in your own feces. Unacceptable.

"Is that smell your plot or your diaper?"

Amelia's not real clear on HOW we, as writers, are supposed to avoid boring our audience so I'll offer my tips:

1. Fewer words is better: If you can tell your 1,000 word story using 750 words without detriment to quality, jump on that rocking horse every time. Especially for short fiction. For example, you need to describe your characters, right? But, you also need to remember that your audience has an imagination and a good idea of what a human looks like. Given that, keep it short and sweet.  

2. Avoid oxbows: A good story often has several sub-plots, running like a braided stream toward the conclusion sea. Oxbows form when a stream twists and turns too much for it's own good. A little chunk of the river is cut off and left behind. Likewise, if your story has too many twists and turns for its own good, there's the chance that a sub-plot will get cut off from the rest of the rest of the story. Sub-plots can be tricky to handle. Keep track of them. Make sure they're all still flowing toward the sea. Don't let any wander off. Avoid oxbows.

That main channel is your plot. The little side channels are your sub-plots. The U-shpaed pond is an oxbow that's been cut off. You don't want those.

3. Don't waste words: This tip is tied to the first about keeping it brief but different in that it's more about quality than quantity. We writers need to make every word count. If it's not crucial for moving the story forward it doesn't belong in the story. When reading something by a really good author, you know they wouldn't have mentioned that bag of marbles the main character tucked into their rook sack unless it was important. And sure enough, fifteen chapters later we realize those marbles are actually a child's memories (or something like that). Good authors don't waste words.

I'm sure there are more but it's time for a fresh diaper, a bottle, and bed. 

What was that? Oh, yeah, I meant for the baby. Sure I did. Right.

Unmitigated cuteness: Amelia eating her Easter lamb.


  1. LOL, I can totally see how boredom would be as undesirable as a poopy diaper. Also, great tips! I especially agree about the oxbows. A lot of my older stories went really overboard with subplots, so I make a conscious effort now to streamline my projects. Much less confusing for myself and readers that way!

    1. I've had the opposite problem in that my stories (in my opinion) have often been a little too straight forward without enough subplot. I'm working on it!


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