Tuesday, June 07, 2011

On Boredom

A lot of YA and MG slush pile offerings open with something like this - a totally made up example:
"There was nothing to do in this dumb subdivision. Every house looked the same. Cookie cutter. The heat was oppressive. I idly tossed a crumpled up piece of paper at the trash can and missed. Sweat made my t-shirt stick to my skin. I fell back onto  my pillow and stared at the popcorn ceiling. Nothing to do today. Nothing to do all summer long. This was the most boring place in the world."
This is a personal pet peeve of mine. When I was a kid I did a lot of whining about how I was bored, and my wise grandmother would say, “bored people are boring.” And I'd get insulted, because I certainly did not think of myself as boring. But guess what? It also made me pipe down and find something to amuse myself with. (Particularly when she combined that with the follow-up, "If you're so bored, I'll give you something to do." And a meaningful look at dustrags.)

The point is, your main character has to be DOING something. They have to be an active, non-boring person. There has to be a reason you are telling their story, for pity's sake. Don't make hanging around with them a drag. Because truly, pages of characters hanging around complaining about how there is nothing to do is just not compelling. Your readers - kids - already KNOW there is nothing to do in the suburbs half the time – that is why they spent $16 bucks on a book.

Don’t make them turn to drugs instead.