I know that appreciation for a novel and whether someone thinks it's good or bad is a subjective thing. I know that depending on your mood, a reader could pick up a novel one day and think it dreck and on another day might be so engrossed in it that they miss picking up their kids from school. But in the last week, two writer friends have both said the same thing about two different novels (neither one of which I have read) that made me think this one descriptor is probably the worst thing someone could say about a novel - for me, anyway. The thing they mentioned? The books were BORING.
For me, that one word is the kiss of death for a novel. I hadn't planned on reading one of the books (it was the last in a series I'd never gotten into) and now I likely never will. But the other one had been on my list to pick up. I'd actually been looking forward to when it came out in paperback so I could have a good summer cottage read. But now? With the BORING label stuck on it? Nuh-uh. I can forgive a lot of things: characters that are TSTL (Too Stupid To Live), overly-complicated plots, writing that is too bare-bones, or too overblown, but a boring story? That's it.
Now boring could, of course, mean different things to different people. But the way these two writers described the books to me, it sounded very similar. Basically, a whole lot of nothing happening for a whole lot of pages. No conflict, no action, page after page of descriptive prose about setting, just … nothing. The writing was good. In both cases written by very accomplished authors. But a reason to keep turning the pages? Um, not there.
I've seen evidence of this meandering, boring, why-is-this scene-even-in-the-book? type of writing in many a novel. When it happens in the case of the last of a series (hello? The first half of the last couple of books in the HP series? Boring.) you still keep reading because you know there is a payoff at the end. Some big event that will be coming that will make the slog worthwhile. And maybe, when it gets to the end of a long series like HP, readers will want to stretch out that time until the end, not wanting to say good-bye to Harry and all that. But in a stand-alone novel? In a first time authors work? Why?
Yes, boring is subjective but character and good writing can only take you so far. Plot and conflict and making things worse for your characters is what keeps people turning a page (not talking about literary fiction here folks, just your average commercial book). Personally, I'd rather be accused of a whole slew of other issues in my writing but if someone tells me they were bored? Agh. As the inimitable Jack Nicholson once said "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes".
How about you? What's the the Kiss of Death for you in a novel?