Skip to main content

Why I Like "Boring" Scenes and Details

"The Simpsons" illustrating a point.

"The Simpsons" illustrating a point.

Scenes in a story where characters are simply hanging out and talking, preparing, having a meal together or sitting quietly and waiting for something have a bad rap. They're considered boring, pointless, a lull in the story, in the way of the action (especially in action-oriented narratives). Oftentimes, writers are told to take them out because they're "irrelevant". A story should remain 100% linear, right?

Not necessarily.

Jake and Lady Rainicorn from Adventure Time sharing a moment.

Jake and Lady Rainicorn from Adventure Time sharing a moment.

I happen to like "boring" scenes and details because to me, it's not just sitting around padding and taking up space. To me, these help to flesh out and develop characters and relationships.

The thing about action and adventure stories is that even though they're "supposed to be" all about the action and adventure, that too will get boring if the story is nothing but those things. Anything can get boring if it's the entirety of a story with no breaks for other things in between. A story shouldn't run off just one thing and one thing alone, it'll give the readers and the writer burnout before it's half done.

Hence the "need", in my book, for breaks. It can create a "calm before the storm" mood, let the characters rest as well as the writer. Even in stories where a break from constant action isn't needed it can give great insight to characters and their relationships. Not everything needs to be wild and groundbreaking, and it's realistic besides. People don't move along nonstop, they have to take breaks for meals and sleep and downtime so it stands to reason that characters should, too.

Granted, this sort of thing can go a bit too far. I once had someone compare writing out such scenes to writing about tooth-brushing every every meal. If an author were doing that I'd consider it overkill, but most authors let such scenes amount to more than that. Some of the best scenes I've ever watched or read were just there to flesh out the characters and give more insight to the world around them.

Gene and Phineas from the film version of "A Separate Peace" talking.

Gene and Phineas from the film version of "A Separate Peace" talking.

Scroll to Continue

Now moving along to little details. Some people think a story should be totally linear, that it should never move from the narrative path. That little details are just padding and boring and off-topic, irrelevant, not conductive to proper storytelling.

I disagree strongly with this. Because just like the aforementioned meal and rest scenes, these help to flesh out characters, too. Not all little details threaten to lead into a subplot that never goes anywhere, nor do they have to lead up to a resolution. A character having a messy closet doesn't mean the story has to end with them leaning to clean it, it can just be a facet of who they are. Two characters teasing each other doesn't have to lead to a dramatic heart-to-heart where they affirm how important their friendship is, for that can be shown in other, smaller ways. A character's red hair doesn't have to be super important, it can just be noticed by the narrator.

I get that description porn can be boring. Some readers of the Babysitter's Club books roll their eyes every time two pages are dedicated to describing the club's outfits, and Tolkien was known to take three pages just to describe a location. There is such a thing as overkill, for sure.

But a passing mention of red hair, a messy closet or show of characters teasing each other isn't the same thing as three pages devoted to talking about what a chair looks like. And honestly, I'd rather have two pages devoted to the BSC's outfits than not know what they look like at all. Some people are visual readers, after all.

Covers can only show us so much.

Covers can only show us so much.

Details and breather scenes aren't everyone's cup of tea, that I understand. But they're not the epitome of derailing-in fact, in a lot of cases I find they help a story rather than harm it.


Lynn Savitzky (author) from New Jersey on August 21, 2015:


Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 21, 2015:

Great points!

Related Articles