Genre authors have one enemy in common and it is boredom.
Our number one goal, our Prime Directive, our First Commandment, our first principle is:
Never be boring.
Our readers come to us for a cure for boredom. I am a voracious reader and always have been. I have never curled up with a book thinking, I hope this bores me to sleep. Books that do that—and of course I’ve read my share—are books I don’t finish, and it’s rare that I’ll give that author a second try.
I will not engage with the snobby anti-genre literati, I will not fight the same pointless war from the genre side. I read and write “literary” fiction, too. I won’t be forced into an either/or existence… well, pretty much across the board. I don’t think literary authors gain any traction by writing boring books, either. Nor do authors of historical fiction, which tend to be either romances or mysteries set in the past. Romance needs to be sexy or sweet or some measure of both. Fantasy has to have some kind of magical or unreal quality to it, with interesting characters doing interesting things in an interesting world. Science fiction can’t just describe some technological gizmo, it has to put that gizmo in the context of characters in conflict, trying to get the gizmo, or turn it off, or… whatever. Horror needs to be scary. Full stop.
You know what I mean.
In the Aeon article “Boredom is but a window to a sunny day beyond the gloom,” Neel Burton asked:
What, exactly, is boredom? It is a deeply unpleasant state of unmet arousal: we are aroused rather than despondent, but, for one or more reasons, our arousal cannot be met or directed.
In the case of curling up with a novel, we are “aroused” by the desire for a good story. If the story isn’t good, that arousal isn’t met. Sounds like science to me.
And you know exactly what I mean.
This is, honestly, the one true test of any piece of fiction. Is it, at the very least, not boring? And all the things we’ve talked about here, that I’ve written in books like The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction and Writing Monsters, and that I’ve tried my best to do in my own fiction from the age of, maybe, six onward, is to encourage writing that, in the first place, isn’t boring.
All I do, it sometimes seems, is rail against the info dump, which I define as long passages (and more than a sentence equals “long” in most cases) of dry recitation of facts. If you, the author, write yourself into the story, however tangentially or inadvertently, and start telling us about characters: how tall they are, where they were born, what political party the belong to… or worse, start telling us about places: how hot it gets, how many people live there… you’re info dumping. Your story is now on pause, or, since these often come at the beginning of a novel or short story, hasn’t yet begun while you—not your point of view character, but you as the unwanted voice of the best-unseen and un-heard from author—somehow brings us up to speed, “sets the scene,” or “wows” us with your detailed research, that’s boring. It needs to go.
This is at the heart of why some people get on the otherwise absurd anti-prologue bandwagon. If they’ve read more than one info dump “prologue” that tells us about the history of the fantasy world, or whatever other piece of would-be journalism, I get it. Yes, that’s boring.
I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction, and I always have. And I, like, I’m sure, most fellow fans, love it for the experience of temporarily inhabiting some strange new person in some strange new place, not for the Monster Manual entry that breaks down the alien creature or the Player’s Handbook spell description, or the article on the kingdom of whatever from the Campaign Setting Guide… I want to live in that place, in that adventure, not with but as the POV character—or just as often, as those POV characters.
If you inject your own voice into the narrative I’m now reading the description of a story, not a story, and there is a huge difference.
The difference is that the former is boring, and the latter is not.
So remember, no matter what:
DON’T BE BORING!
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Science fiction and fantasy can be the most challenging—and rewarding!—genres in the bookstore. With best selling author and editor Philip Athans at your side, you’ll create worlds that draw your readers in—and keep them reading—with…