The more I write, the more I come to understand my biggest problem: boring writing. I’m not being overly critical, I’m just getting better at figuring out what my writing needs to improve. People think of writing as putting words together into sentences and having an exceptional vocabulary. At a much higher level, though, it’s what those sentences are trying to accomplish as a whole that matters.
How My Novel Was Boring and What I’m Doing About It
At first, my novel had an “everyman” as a main character, because I was trying to write what I knew. Well, for a fantasy novel, that’s not very fantastic.
Everyman characters are boring.
White male protagonists are also starting to be boring to me. I’m considering changing up the story significantly and making the protagonist be the girl who is actually the center of the story. Originally, the plot was that my Everyman would be thrust into extraordinary situations through his own mistakes and strange outer circumstances. Thinking he had to rescue the girl (who disappears, triggering these events for him) he embarks on an adventure.
What he comes to find out is that the girl didn’t need rescuing and in fact his mistaken notions cause more problems and backfire. But he continues along, I guess for the purpose of becoming the “reporter,” through whose new eyes we see into this mysterious fantasy world of of the Fae hiding just underneath our own reality.
It felt natural to go with this, but looking at it now, after trying to write some of it, it’s boring. Who cares about this guy? What’s so interesting about him?
The change he undergoes is not very interesting.
A boring main character is a prime sin, the punishment for which is an endless purgatory in the Realm of the Unpublished.
It’s the girl who’s the lynchpin of the story, though: she’s not who she thinks she is. When she finds out, she’s going to be shocked and feel betrayed and unmoored. The story is titled The Broken Princess for now, so you can guess her role. There are a squigglezillion secret royalty stories, I know, but I think my twist on this is pretty good, and that’s what matters, considering there’s nothing new under the sun. I’ll keep that twist to myself for now.
Though she may be the character around which the story revolves, that doesn’t mean she should be the main character. If there’s one thing a main character needs, it’s agency: the ability and resources to make shit happen, to move things forward, to act upon, rather than be acted upon.
The change that she goes through in the story is the most interesting one of all, because everything about her changes, especially physically.
One of my other characters is an agent in a secret government paranormal agency. Now that is a character who has agency. In fact that’s what an agent does: acts, moves an investigation forward. They’re practically the same word. My agent character is also black. There aren’t too many main characters in fantasy that are of color, so that would also be less boring than my original white male character. A white author writing a black dude… dangerous territory, fraught with potential ignorance, I know. But hey, I have that problem already. He’s already a character, he just wasn’t a main character at first and now I’m considering it.
Boring Short Story: Wrong Main Character Fix
I’m also working on a short story, The Changeling. For some bizarre reason, the first draft of it had some other character besides the main character discover her baby had been replaced by a changeling. I actually thought that was my “twist” on it because everyone would’ve expected it to be the main character.
I know, right? What the actual fuck? Stupid.
So I started rewriting it with the main character as the one who discovers her child is replaced by a changeling (no big surprise, there, considering the title). In changeling stories, there are ways to get your kid back, but you don’t always get a happy ending. A victory can’t be too easy and pat, and a defeat has to have a significant twist on it to be anything other than just a downer.
Knowing Better Doesn’t Always Help
Funny thing is I knew better than this. And yet these stories started out as being boring, anyway. Knowing something because you’ve read about it isn’t the same as making it happen when you’re writing. Part of me wants to just finish the damn thing, already, but when I catch these colossal mistakes to a story’s basic elements, I can’t just finish it. That would be like building a house to completion when you know you fucked up the foundation (or started on an Indian burial ground, heh…). Nobody would want to live in it and I’d be ashamed of it. No point in finishing a story nobody would want to read and which I’d be ashamed to have written. Better to rewrite it.
The big lesson here? When you’re talking about your writing, you’re not talking about just the words and sentences. You’re talking about higher-level aspects: main character, point of view, and plot.
Boring is not allowed.