How To Write Waiting

EHLM Boredom

Waiting is something which we understand through experience. To tell someone who is unfamiliar with boredom what boredom is is easy. However, that never needs to happen. What we need to do is convey the experience of being bored, to bring someone into boredom. Unfortunately, to convey the experience of it is difficult. That in mind, the key to conveying boredom is to tap into their memories of being bored and drag forward that sensation to be applied to the character.

The chief necessity in so doing, however, is that you not make your reader bored. This is counterintuitive in some ways, since the easiest way to bring across an emotion your character feels is simply to make the audience feel the same way. An angry character is in an angry scene, and we should experience the rise of anger ourselves. A scared character is in a scary scene, and the adrenaline fight-or-flight reaction is what people are paying you for. No one, however, with the possible exception of French Lit majors, comes to a book wanting someone to make them bored.

The necessity remains. Sometimes, a character is going to be bored, and you need your audience to not just know or even comprehend their boredom, but rather to sense it at an instinctual level. How, then, does one do that without boring the audience?

The key is to give your audience a look at the mental wanderings and shifting focal points that accompany your character’s boredom in such a way as for them to be interesting from the outside even as your character feels bored of them from the inside. After all, typing this I have a moment of wondering what George Lopez was thinking about right this second – I don’t care about George Lopez in the least, but if I were to hear his internal monologue for a few minutes, that would be kind of interesting just because I was in someone else’s head.

Better yet, this also gives you a chance to really play with your character, expand their personality, expand their space in the reader’s mind, and give over a lot of exposition on their nature without having to say anything directly. Where someone’s mind goes when unstimulated says a lot about them, and more than that taking their mind to their past experiences gives you a chance to relate a little scrap of background without having to resort to a flashback or story scene.

Of course, that’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? Therein lies the art. You must give us enough of their mind to show us that they’re bored and rambling, taking the opportunity to expand the character, but not so much that you pull us out of the moment and allow us to forget why the character’s mind is wandering in the first place.

One easy way to do that, to un-paint yourself out of that corner should you have boxed yourself into an excessive amount of mental description, is simply to return to the scene itself. Let your character notice what’s around them. Talk about the details on the building across the road, the clothes of the people walking by, or whatever else your character would be prone to noticing under their circumstances.

In this way, we keep our scene as anchored in reality as the character’s boredom is, we evoke the reader’s memory of boredom without reenacting it, and we put the time needed to convey the wait to good use in expanding the character in question.

So, here we have it:

1 part stream of consciousness

1 part character development

1 part outside description

Heat, stirring carefully to avoid audience boredom, and adjust proportions as necessary. Salt to taste. Serve after editing.

2 thoughts on “How To Write Waiting

  1. Great post on an interesting topic. I am editing a book which introduces the main character stuck in a rut; so I shall bear these thoughts in mind and revisit the opening scene. Thank you very much!


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