Sometimes the boring idea is best

by | Feb 10, 2014 | Writing Advice | 17 comments

When people set off to write a novel, they often feel as if they need to break every single mold and come up with something no one else has thought of before.

And then, when writing the novel, writers sometimes feel pressure to get their characters from Point A to Point B in the most! exciting! way! possible!

Not only is this way too much pressure to put on yourself, a lot of times it isn’t even the best choice for your story. As I say in my guide to writing a novel, “Sometimes a character just needs to stare at the ice floes and contemplate the meaning of life.”

You don’t have to break every mold to write a novel, and you don’t have to try to blow everyone away on every single page. There’s a rhythm of ups and down in a novel that can be incompatible with shoving originality and excitement where it doesn’t belong. You can also exhaust the reader if you constantly try to blow their minds.

Poor, poor boring idea! You are unappreciated, you are downtrodden, you are the idea of last resort. But sometimes you are the right one for the moment.

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Art: In Gedanken by Félix Armand Heullant



    And, really, it's what we DO with the idea that makes it new and different.

  2. Shawn

    Ice floes???

    From the guy who coined the phrase "mangst?"

    What is more mangsty than ice floes?

  3. MommyHeadache

    Maybe one should have an original idea and then write it without being excruciatingly exciting. J K Rowling showed how not to do it with The Casual Vacancy which covered the scintillating subject of the ups and downs of a local council…it was boring as xxxxx but had one or two good bits.

    Going off to write a book about being a lifeguard in an old people's home.

  4. Angela Adams

    Often, it's the simple things in life that grab our attention.

  5. adan

    "Poor, poor boring idea! …sometimes you are the right one for the moment." –

    ahhh, what a relief 😉

    just playing, but very much appreciate and accep the notion, ie, i needed it 🙂 thanks nathan

  6. Adam Heine

    "and come up with something no one else has thought of before."

    Also, this is impossible.

  7. Carol Riggs

    Yay! I'm so glad you said this, and I'm bookmarking it. Great point about the normal flowing rhythms of a novel. Low/slower points can actually make the high points FEEL higher, too.

    But will a less exciting kind of novel SELL? I suppose, but it might target a diff audience than the I-want-it-right-now-with-fireworks crowd.

  8. Bruce Bonafede

    I think if a writer starts with the intention of being original or innovative they are doomed to failure, because the intention will be obvious and create a sense of artificiality. The great literary innovators of the 20th century who changed fiction, poetry and theatre didn't innovate because they were trying to innovate, they couldn't help but innovate because they were trying to express the inexpressible.

  9. wendy

    This is interesting and somehow freeing, because the temptation is to write the
    'great Australian/American epic' and therefore to high concept/high drama our readers'sensibilities to retain interest. I agree with what you've written here, Nathan, that there needs to be a break in the storm to just smell the roses. 🙂

  10. JoelMayer

    I think the challenge is to write dialogue good enough for a stage play. Let the hollywood re-writer add car crashes and fist fights to the script. That's my four cents!

  11. Laurence King

    So true, Nathan! Sometimes, keeping it simple and "boring" is the best way to go. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  12. Julie Musil

    So true! Some of my favorite books are "quiet." Some may say they're boring, but not me…

  13. Susie

    Hmmm….I'm usually on board with you, but I just question if "boring" is the right word here. I get what you're saying about how striving to be innovative and exciting may end up seeming contrived and artificial, but is the solution to go with a 'boring' idea? Maybe its about being simple? unadorned? let me consult my thesaurus here…stark? bare? modest? straightforward? Just curious…

  14. John Stanton

    A couple of random thoughts…

    If your novel is trying to be exciting, sexy, violent all the time with no real ideas, story or emotion, you have a TV show.

    There is a saying that "A good writer follows the rules and a great writer breaks the rules." The problem is you have to be good before you can be great.

  15. Anonymous

    Author Anne Tyler built a brilliant career writing about everyday people in Baltimore…one of the most boring places in the world 🙂

  16. BOOKinBlog

    Interestingly my philosophy in life, "the simplest things may make a difference"

  17. Jason Bougger

    Pretty interesting comments and totally true. If you don't have those "boring" parts in a novel, then there is no way your novel can come off a real.

    And, really, a good writer should be able to take those boring moments of life and make them seem interesting enough to keep the reader's attention.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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