The recipe for a boring book

Recently I read a description of a street scene which included the cry of a woman as she hawked hot banh minh. The very use of the word “hawked” which denotes selling goods on the street and banh minh, which is a hybrid sandwich (French bread stuffed with Vietnamese cuisine) would frighten readers who had no connections with that culture. For me, however it was a quick way of expressing the sounds, smells and sights of the street vendor in Saigon. I could even hear the particular shrill intonation of the Vietnamese woman which is not the same as American female yelling.

Whether a reader perceives writing as rich and interesting is based on the reader’s comprehension and experience. When the setting is not a familiar one, it requires ability to deal with new words and culture to avoid pulling out of the story from fear of the unknown. A higher level of reading comprehension provides the ability to deal with the greater mass of information that goes into a more complex work. Also, if the reader has a larger vocabulary “poetic” writing is not only easier to comprehend, it appeals more because of the verbal uniqueness.

An interesting book for a portion of the population can be boring if it is too simple or too complex for you. What make a piece of writing boring depends on the readers as well as the writer. So, this is my criteria for a boring book:

Flat characters—the reader is aware of their physical appearance but little is revealed about interior quirks, frustrations or struggles. They may have only a few traits described, and these are static, so the person never grows or changes.

Irrational characters—there is a temptation to have antagonists do things simply because they are evil or crazy. Insane people may indulge in magical thinking, but they still have reasons for what they do. Characters don’t take actions simply to beef up the plot. Characters should propel the plot rather than the other way around.

Improbable plots—too many conflicts are solved quickly, and multiple coincidences are required for the resolution of the problem. A poorly developed or simplistic plot is usually indicated by one of the following:

  • I can figure out pretty much what is going to happen early in the book.
  • The solution to any mystery is all jammed into one chapter at the end.
  • The various characters, who should not know as much as the reader, seem privy to the reader’s knowledge.
  • The author uses a lot of sex and/or violence to keeps the reader’s attention.

Impoverished descriptions—overused phrases—are boring. So is the reverse, ornate writing in which the author spends too much effort on the word choice rather than developing an intriguing flow of language. I want to visualize the scenes and prefer poetic writing as long as it doesn’t disintegrate into purple prose.

Just having an thrill-paced first chapter will not keep my attention. In fact, I don’t even require any excitement in first chapter. The second or third one is more important as long as the tension in the story is building. I have put down a lot of books that started out in an interesting manner only to devolve into one of the problems described above.

My friend, who is intelligent when it comes to math, computers and logic, simply could not get into The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I found it exciting early in the first book. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed Cry the Beloved Country, a book which she admitted held surprises for her until the very end. Many of her classmates were bored by the poetic language describing the racial struggle. So, I pay little attention to how many stars a book has on Amazon or Goodreads. If it has an average of five stars, it will probably be too simplistic and too packed with unrealistic plot twists or lurid details for me to enjoy. I find books hovering below the “perfect” review range are typically much better.

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1 Response to The recipe for a boring book

  1. H Melvin James says:

    According to most of what K.N. Listman wrote in this article, K.N. would enjoy my novel, “Tares among the Wheat.”

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