This quote is from Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and it illustrates one of the most important things to remember as a writer: DO NOT BORE YOUR READER.
People don’t like being bored. Newsflash! I know. I have literally never heard anyone say ‘I’m sooo bored right now, it’s amazing!’ or even ‘I can’t wait for the meeting on Thursday, I’m going to be so bored!’
When you write, people have a choice whether or not to read your output. It’s simple: if you bore them, you’re making that choice for them.
It’s true that there are great works of literature out there which do contain landscapes. The inclusion of descriptions of landscape does not automatically destine your work for the bin. I’m thinking particularly of the books of Lord of the Rings. Epic, sweeping, masterful, insert superlative adjective of your choice. And then one day I read a review of the films, and this review made the point that the books are full of boring bits, which the films cleverly managed to leave out. At first, I was shocked. Heresy! These are amazing books, how can you say they’re boring! Then I realised it was true.
Deft summary of hundreds of boring pages in 10 bullet points
I am still bowled over by Tolkien’s creation of an entire world, self-sufficient and complete unto itself, existing 100% outside any time and space we have ever experienced, yet totally plausible. (In the same vein as Gormenghast.) I love the Lord of the Rings books. But there are an awful lot of pages – hundreds, even, which could have been summarised thusly:
- Where is Gandalf?
- We are hungry.
- We are walking.
- This lambas bread is a bit crap but it’s all we’ve got.
- Ooooh, Gollum, a baddie or a goodie? WHO KNOWS.
- Walking some more.
- Mordor is such a mission to get to.
- Can’t you just text Gandalf? We could really do with some help here.
- EVEN MOAR WALKING.
[Inspired by the excellence that is Molly J. Ringwraith.]
Write skippable prose, readers will skip it
I’m not saying long books are a bad thing – far from it – but I am saying that boring your readers is a bad thing. I wonder how many people got to the boring bits of LOTR and just gave up? Which would be a shame, because it’s really worth ploughing on to get to the better bits. But this review I mentioned earlier (that I can’t find, or I would link to it) also mentioned that if writers write skippable prose, they must not be insulted when their readers skip it. Real talk.
Here’s an example of a description, not of landscape, but of ’emotions, tensions, dejections, moods’:
‘Evening shadows make me blue,’ sang Connie Francis, ‘when each weary day is through. How I long to be with you, my happiness.’ The honey of her voice, the sweet sadness of the words and melody made his throat ache. Pictures riffled in his mind: rain streaming down windows; night roads unwinding in the headlamps’ beams; sunpoints dazzling on the sea; nakedness and firelight, glimpses, sounds and smells of youth and love and sorrow.
Angelica’s Grotto – Russell Hoban