By JPC Allen
Little did I realize when I wrote this post in March how many of us would be battling boredom in the near future. Every month on my blog, I choose some aspect about the month—a holiday or the weather—and brainstorm ideas about how to use the month as writing inspiration. March is my least favorite month. I’m not a fan of basketball, have no connection to Ireland that I know of although I love Celtic music and history, and Lent often makes my anxious with its emphasis on examining sins. So I hit on boredom as writing inspiration for March.
That sounds like an oxymoron. Writers don’t want to bore readers. But boredom can serve storytelling as a comic element or character motivation. I just have to write it in an entertaining way so that while my characters experience boredom, my readers do not.
Author Patrick F. McManus wrote several short stories focusing on boredom. He exploits the problem as a way to propel characters into comic situations.
Mr. McManus shared my loathing of March. He uses boredom during the month for his humorous story “Brimstone” from the book How I Got This Way. As a teenager and outdoorsman in rural Idaho, he laments how he can’t hunt, fish, or camp during the miserable, muddy weather of March. His sole hobby is staring vacantly out a window. When a deputy sheriff arrives at his house looking for someone in his family to guide him to a neighbor’s shack, his mother forces him to go with the deputy. But March and its mud can thwart even the long arm of the law.
In “Another Boring Day” from the same book, eight-year-old Pat and his best friend Crazy Eddie can’t find anything do to on a summer day. They’ve already built their own scuba gear, constructed an airplane, and dug a pit for wild animals. When they tell their mothers about their boredom, both women grow alarmed. If the boys find a solution to their problem, their parents will also become unbored very quickly.
Character Motivation, Part 1
Because of confinement, closures, and restricted movement due to the coronavirus, the resulting boredom for many of us has led to discovering qualities, or flaws, about ourselves that we never knew we had. We can use boredom to uncover the same traits in our characters.
One of the first times I was ever assertive while working at my first “real” job was due to boredom. At a staff meeting at the public library where I worked in the children’s department, two colleagues became entrenched in opposing views like Dr. Seuss’s Zax in the Prairie of Prax. My boredom grew to such a level that my only hope of escaping with sanity was to broker a peace treaty. My director complimented me on finding a solution. But I had acted out of self-preservation. I didn’t want to go mad at twenty-seven.
I can use a meeting like that to compel a character to quit his job and try a new career. A bored, stay-at-home mom volunteers at an animal shelter while her kids are in school. She meets new people and finds a new passion. A teen stuck babysitting younger siblings all summer makes friends with an elderly neighbor. Boredom is a believable reason for all these characters to try something they normally wouldn’t.
Character Motivation, Part 2
Since I write mysteries, I love amateur detectives. But it’s difficult to get them involved in a mystery in a plausible way. Boredom is a perfect way to start an amateur sleuth snooping.
The classic example of this is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window from 1954. Jeff, a photographer, is laid up with a badly broken leg in his small apartment during a hot summer in New York City. Out of extreme boredom, he begins watching his neighbors who live in the apartment building across the courtyard. He notices the unhappy marriage of one couple. When the wife disappears, Jeff’s convinced the husband has killed her. After the police refuse to investigate, he enlists the help of his girlfriend and his part-time nurse.
I can turn any of the suggestions from the previous section into a mystery featuring an amateur detective. At the animal shelter, the stay-at-home mom meets another volunteer, who seems troubled. That volunteer later turns up dead. The teen and elderly neighbor are suspicious of a family who has just moved onto their street.
How would you use boredom as writing inspiration?Boredom is a believable reason for characters to try something they normally wouldn’t by JPC Allen. #ACFWBlogs #writetips #writing #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet
JPC Allen started her writing career in second grade with an homage to Scooby Doo. She’s been tracking down mysteries ever since. A former children’s librarian, she is a member of ACFW and has written mystery short stories for Mt. Zion Ridge Press, including “Debt to Pay” in From the Lake to the River. She offers writing tips and prompts to beginning writers on her website, Facebook, Instagram, or Goodreads. A lifelong Buckeye, she has deep roots in the Mountain State.