Tag Archives: character in fiction

Things I Don’t Want to Read About: The Bored Character

James sighed in exasperation as the presenter at the conference droned on and on in her flat monotone. He wasn’t even taking in anything she was saying anymore. God, how bored he was. In fact, he couldn’t remember when he’d last been so excruciatingly bored. He drummed his fingers on his desk restlessly to try to amuse himself, but it didn’t help. All he could think about was that he wished desperately he was not in the auditorium listening to the dullest presentation that anyone had ever given. He felt his mind shutting down and his eyes glazing over, and the time seemed to tick by incredibly slowly. Letting out a gaping yawn, James wondered when it would all be over so his boredom could come to a merciful end. His eyelids grew heavier and heavier, and soon he knew he would be falling asleep, his head drooping as he drifted off. He was really that bored.

* * *

Tell me the truth: at what point in the above paragraph did you decide that you really didn’t give a fig about James? Was it within the first couple of sentences?  If, after reading the first two or three, you simply skipped ahead to the second paragraph, hoping for something much more stimulating to read, I can hardly blame you for your impatience. Perhaps you are no longer even with me, as you’ve fallen asleep in front of your computer screen. If so, I offer my deepest apologies for torturing you with James’s tedious story, which I wrote myself.

Someone’s boredom has to rank among the top ten things I really don’t care to read about. But judging by how often the subject appears in writing, not everyone agrees with me. Many a writer has spilled far too much ink conveying in devastatingly mind-numbing detail the intolerable state of being bored, and many a poor protagonist has suffered the agony of being in this state.

One observation I’ve made is that authors who dwell on boredom often tend to be rather young. Perhaps, even with social media and all the other delightful distractions of the twenty-first century, many young people still experience much more boredom than older people do and are therefore much more likely to write about what it feels like. But this is not something I know for sure–I am only surmising.

Reading about boredom is, well, boring. For one thing, when an author goes on and on about the exquisite torment of his character’s boredom, the plot tends to come to a complete standstill, which is rarely a good thing in fiction. For another, bored characters  chafe at my nerves. They’re dull themselves and often unreasonably whiny. Sometimes, with the way they carry on, you’d think they’re the only people in the history of the world who have ever been so bored. And I usually want to ask (no, demand) that they try harder to be more resourceful and find creative ways of amusing themselves. After all, I’ve sat through some awfully boring presentations too, but I at least managed to come up with some impressive doodles while the presenter was droning on and on. There’s no reason why bored characters can’t choose to break out of their dreary states and become much more interesting to readers in the process.

My Writing Has Gone to the Dogs

I consider myself primarily an editor, but every once in a while, I cross over to the other side of the great divide and write. It’s seemingly for pleasure, if you can call fussing over your own words instead of someone else’s pleasurable. Mostly, I write blog posts, but I also write fiction. Part of the reason you haven’t seen a blog post from me over the last couple of weeks is that I have been absorbed in writing a short story for a contest. It has been a sort of exquisite agony for me.

Writing fiction when I’m much more accustomed to editing it is good for me because it deepens my appreciation of what my clients go through when they’re developing their plots, characters, and settings. I’ve always been in awe of those who seriously undertake the daunting process of creating fictional worlds, and when I struggle to create my own, it reinforces my respect for the process and reminds me to tread lightly and tactfully upon the manuscripts that writers submit to me for editing.

But of course, I don’t just write fiction because it’s good for me. Certain themes spark my imagination. When I discovered that there was a short story competition dedicated to dog-themed fiction, I knew I had to enter it. I puzzled over the challenge of creating my canine protagonist, who could express his thoughts and emotions only through body language, behaviour, and vocalizations (but as stated in the contest rules, he was not allowed to speak). I struggled over how to make the dog the engine that drives the plot and how to make him upstage his human companions and take the spotlight. I agonized over how to make my furry main character show the same depth of character and emotion that any human protagonist should have.

My inspiration for the character came, not surprisingly, from my own dog. I began observing Trinka’s body language and behaviours and thinking about them in relation to what she was trying to communicate. She’s an amazingly vocal dog who apparently wants to have conversations with me–if only she could figure out how to speak English. After this period of careful observation, my plot seemed to come effortlessly to me one night, a genuine bolt from the blue. But getting everything down on the page was, of course, another story.

I fussed and I fiddled for days; you know how it goes. I had the whole thing packaged up and ready to mail today when it occurred to me that I’d forgotten a small but crucial detail. So I opened the envelope, only to find that I was also missing an important word, right there in the first paragraph. Even though I had probably read the story fifteen times before, I sat down and read it out loud, determined to catch any other niggling little errors that remained.

The tweaking could have gone on forever, but it was time to put a stop to it. I was well and truly done and, I admit, rather pleased with my work. When I finally sealed the envelope for good, I experienced a rush–or rather, a fantastic big whoosh–of elation that made the thought of all that fussing and fiddling fade away into nothing.

Trinka, the inspiration for my recent foray into fiction