Thursday, August 11, 2011

Are You Boring?

Back in January, it occured to me that I should probably get an agent. Yes, yes, I was one of the lucky ones who managed to scored a publishing contract with an amazing publisher without an agent (How's that for a honkin' blessing from the LORD?) So I pulled out my Writer's digest to agents or something like that, and sent out a few queries. And then I managed to snag the amazing supersecretagentman, Bill Jensen.

And I sent him ten thousand words of my new novel, the Amish/thriller/contemporary/literary thingy and he was kind enough to call me and say, "Jenn? Your writing is awful."

Actually, he didn't say that. He was wonderfully eloquent and used big words that I jotted down to look up later in my 1964 Thesauraus (I highly recommend old-school thesaurauses - they are mightier than the new ones that use 'dude' as a synonym for 'friend'.) and he offered some advice. Read some books. And not just any books. Good ones. So I picked up the ones he recommended and did some reading.

Know what?

My writing is awful.

No, wait. My writing is great for kids. I wrote two great kids' books (brag! brag!) but grown-up books? Ick. So within all my reading, this is what I learned.

I was boring.

And here was what I needed to work on:

1) No one, and I mean no one, wants to read about a boring character. And do you know who a boring character is? You. I don't mean you, personally. What I mean is, if you are writing about a character (let's call her the heroine) who is just like everyone else you know? Blah. Is she just like your best friend, or someone you think you are? Blah. Boring, boring, boring. No one wants to read about the slender, tall blond, blue-eyed girl who always does the right thing. Do you know who people want to read about? They want to read about the slightly over-weight, can't-do-anything-with-my-hair, slightly sloppy, not quite put together girl. They want to read about women who stick their feet in their mouths. Women who are a little 'too much'. Women who are loud, speak their mind, have no problem kicking a guy in the shins when he hits on her, women who always make the wrong choice. The reason it is so interesting to read about them is because women aren't like that! It's like watching a train wreck, you can't take your eyes away. No, wait, that's not right. It's like ... Ok. I'm a stubborn, loud, impatient woman who cannot stand people who are wishy washy. But I'm not about to be loud on purpose, kick people in the shins or take down the bad guy. I wouldn't tell my best friend that she's making me crazy and I wouldn't tell the dental hygienist that she's being too rough. But I love reading about tough women who can stand up for themselves and don't care what people think of them. Know what I mean?

2) Is your heroine weak? No one likes a weak main character. It's depressing. Sure you can write about how she was weak, but you'd better find something for her to do. You need a crazy something that invokes bravery in her heart. Fast. Because if you keep writing about how she never does anything because she's scared, or complacent, readers will put the book back on the bookshelf. People want to read about a hero.

3) Is your heroine chasing anything? The best stories out there are about women who need something desperately. Something they are willing to fight to the death for. And just when she's about to catch it, just at that last moment, it gets taken away again. Or something even worse happens because she just stuck her foot in her mouth. Or kicked someone.

4) Your heroine needs to over-react. Do you remember being a teenager and your hormones were all crazy? Remember how you would just die if your friend said she didn't like your skirt? Or you stopped eating because the boy at school told a friend of a friend that he thought you were cute? Do you remember those crazy emotions you had? And you pledged your love to your crush, and you told your boyfriend that you would die for him? (This must be why Twilight did so well.) Your heroine needs to react and she needs to make the wrong choices. You need the reader to be yelling at the book, "what are you doing???" and then devour the next section to find out how it plays out.

5)This is so obvious, but I'm going to state in anyway. Stop showing. Start telling. Instead of saying how people are feeling, have amazing conversations back and forth between characters. You do not need use adjectives to describe how someone is speaking. Stop using words like, 'she argued', 'her eyes were angry', "he looked disappointed". Instead, try using conversation to get it across. Like,

'I don't think that's a good idea,' or
'I thought you were better than that.' or
'I can't believe you did that."

See? More effective. And less boring. Everyone loves witnessing a great arguement, whether we agree or not. Except our parents. No one likes hearing their parents arguing.

6) Do you care about your character? Do get excited writing about them? After I read those amazing books on editing, I realized what my mistakes were in my novel. And then I stopped getting excited about it. Don't get me wrong, I think about it from time to time and I take notes. But I got a new idea. And it's the YA/dystopian/thriller/romance thingy that I've been playing with. And I think about what I'm 'supposed' to be working on, but this other one is just so much fun! I'm crazy about my main character and I love learning about her. So the other one is on the shelf for later and I'll just plow through this one and enjoy writing. Because that's why we write, right? Because it's fun and fulfilling and gets you excited!
Are you excited yet?

Jenn Kelly's second book, Jackson Jones: the Tale of a Boy, a Troll and a Rather, Large Chicken will be out September 15th. Her next novel will be out after she writes it and gets it published. She apologizes for the different photo and formatting because her little junky laptop isn't working well. And it's not a pink typewriter. PS: see the artwork by my son in the background?


  1. Great and entertaining advice. And I've got to admit it, your description of this prototypical 'interesting' heroine does sound a bit like me at times.
    Thanks and blessings,

  2. Very entertaining and also informative. What I want to know is, how did you snag an agent in the first place if he thought your writing was boring?!?!?

  3. @Paula: it takes a very brave woman to admit that!
    @Tracy: Actually, it wasn't my agent who said I was boring. It was the book I was reading and the section on boring characters really opened my eyes. It showed me all of the mistakes I was making. It was awesome.