Written by JJ Barnes
Naturally you want your story to be interesting. If your story is boring, you’ll lose the attention of your audience, and you won’t be satisfying anybody. The desire might, naturally, be to write every single scene as an exciting and dramatic event. However, life isn’t like that. Sometimes your characters will a be in a potentially boring scene to do things that aren’t very interesting, in and of themselves.
Boring events can be essential for the plot, and without them your story won’t make sense, so you need to find a way to write them in an interesting way. Alternatively, you might think of a concept that, if written badly could be dull, but you want to write it in an entertaining way.
I’ll talk through how to write scenes that are built around a potentially boring event but in an interesting way.
Writing A Boring Scene Like In The West Wing
In the West Wing, there are a lot of meetings. The show features scene after scene of very smart people sitting around discussing very complex politics. They use long sentences and big words, they discuss complex political concepts that most people have no clue about. It is essential for the show, and gives justification for more dramatic scenes at later moments, so they have to be included. Without the politics there would be no point, however, it would be extremely easy to make these scenes boring.
The way The West Wing keeps those scenes interesting is to cram them with conflict. You don’t have to understand the actual issues or political nuances being discussed, you can understand the humans. Each person in each scene wants to discuss multiple things, are pursuing multiple goals. The technical language can wash over you because it’s about how each person reacts to the issues that makes it interesting.
Some of the characters are passionately in favour of what is being discussed, others are against. Some of them are not interested and have to fake being interested but really want to do something else. There are characters who hate one another, characters who are attracted to one another. Some want to prove themselves, others want to argue just to make a point. That conflict is constantly on the surface, and the characters are constantly pushing for their own agenda and goal.
Pack Your Boring Scene With Conflict
When you cram your scene with conflict, it will be interesting. Give each character something they want that conflicts with what someone else wants. Or, like Aaron Sorkin, give each character multiple things they want that are in conflict not only with other characters but with themselves as well. The way the characters react to one another is interesting. They will be pursuing their own goals and blocking the goals of others. Some will want things they don’t share with the other characters but the audience knows about.
The more things they want, the more ways they want to get them, and the more they meet walls they must overcome to get them, the more interesting your scene will be. Don’t fear writing complex and dry issues, just be sure to make them the glue that holds a scene riddled with other issues together, rather than the actual focus. Conflict keeps even the most potentially boring scene interesting.
Writing A Boring Scene Like In Friends
A lot of stories aren’t set in particularly dramatic settings. Sitcoms are a prime example of this. You’re not putting characters in high stakes life or death situations. There’s no running from aliens or fighting a monster. Sitcoms are just life. And life is pretty boring.
The way Friends keeps scenes interesting, beyond the comedy, is to focus on the human relationships. Every scene in Friends is full of humanity, the emotion and the pain and the hope. In Season 1, Episode 18, The One With All The Poker, the six friends spend a lot of the episode playing poker. Poker is not particularly exciting to watch. It involves a lot of looking at cards and thinking, placing bets, dropping out. Unless you’re a poker nerd, which most people aren’t, this is a boring scene.
The way Friends makes the The One With All The Poker interesting, is to make the poker background to the actual story. The actual story is the humanity. The constant electricity between Ross and Rachel, the sparring and refusal to admit their mutual attraction, keeps the scene buzzing. Rachel’s hopes and, eventually dashed, dreams of a new job. The way Ross determinedly antagonises her until he folds out of love for her to give her an ego boost. What would be quite flat and boring becomes incredibly human and personal. The relationships between those characters are what you focus on.
Focus On Humanity
The mundanity of every day life is not naturally entertaining. We are all living it. We sit around drinking coffee, we go to the shops, we do our work. Sometimes we have friends round for a game of poker or to watch a movie. In and of itself, none of this is particularly interesting. We might as well be watching our own lives.
The comedy of Friends is obviously one part, but you can crack joke after joke and not be a hit show. Focus on the humanity. It’s the interactions between your characters around the boring stuff that is entertaining. Watching poker is boring. Watching characters who are in denial about their love for one another sparring over poker, and the reactions of those around them, is entertaining.
Day to day life in a standard setting in a normal world is boring. But people. People and their emotions and attractions, hopes and dreams, is entertaining. Make sure you emotionally connect your audience to all your characters. Establish who they are and what they want, then throw them into the boring scene to pursue that goal. Then focus on how they react to others, and how others react to them.
There Are No Boring Scenes
Remember; there are no boring scenes. There is only boring writing. Cram conflict and humanity into your scene and no matter how boring your story setting is, your story will be entertaining. Just make sure your audience knows who they characters are, what they want and why they want it. Then make sure they are constantly in pursuit and motivated to achieve their goal, and bumping heads with the characters around them who all want something different.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose