How (Not) to Bore a Reader

Interesting post on writing here by Dan Wilson. He was the singer of Semisonic and co-wrote top-selling songs by Adele and the Dixie Chicks.

I’ve been thinking myself lately about how two writers can have incredibly different writing styles and both be great reads. In his article, Dan talks about a writer whose talent is incredibly long-winded writing that still keeps the reader tantalized. Contrast that to someone like Kurt Vonnegut who had the talent to express some of the greatest ironies of human nature in a succinct, biting sentence like “So it goes.”

I personally tend toward the Vonnegut side of the writing scale, and it probably comes from my journalism background. I’m of the opinion you can say a lot with few words (provided you have the right words). I don’t like writing paragraphs that go on for half a page. I don’t like telling readers every minute detail. I try to give them just enough information so that they can see the scene in their heads.

But you know, that’s just what works for me. I’ve read authors who describe things in exhaustive detail and it’s brilliant (take Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness). And even the most succinct writing can be boring if nothing is happening in the plot.  Then again, Franz Kafka’s whole shtick is writing stories in which the protagonist never gets anywhere, and he’s a genius too.

So what is it that makes a good book? How much of it has to do with the writing style, and how much of it is the story? What makes one book boring and another something you can’t put down?

One theory I have is that a good book (or a good song or movie) strikes an emotional chord. For example, the reader relates to how the protagonist is feeling. Going back to Kafka, maybe The Trial is so compelling because it so perfectly captures that feeling of hopelessness we feel every time we wait hours in line at the DMV.

What do you think? I’d love to read your comments below.

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