My Manifesto

Periodically, manifestos on the subject of writing pop up on the interwebs. That’s totally cool with me, even though I rarely read them. Or pay much attention to them. I’m not a manifesto kind of person.

But after much thought I’ve decided I do have a manifesto to share with the world, however unlikely it is that the world cares.

You novelists out there? You fiction writers?

Don’t bore me.

That’s it. Just don’t bore me. I considered making this a positive commandment rather than a negative one, but “entertain me” didn’t quite mean the same thing.

If a book bores me, I will stop reading. As it happens, I’m not as patient as I used to be. And unfortunately I don’t have as much time to invest before I disengage.

Having said that, I should note that my standards are fluid. This isn’t specifically about quality, although quality of craft and art always count. Egregious stumbling-blocks like one-dimensional characters, awkward writing, and leaden and over-used plot devices will almost certainly bore me, but smooth and professional plotting might also bore me if I’m not engaged by the story. A tale with a modicum of competent prose but an emotional hook that grabs me might hold my attention more thoroughly than finely-wrought prose that leaves me cold. A novel I put down with a yawn one day might grip me a year later. And sometimes I’m hit over the head by multiple layers of writing genius from the first sentence, utterly hornswoggled and in love.

Bear in mind that you’re not necessarily writing for me anyway. You might write a perfectly delightful book that doesn’t work for me through no fault of yours. Maybe you’re writing in a sub-genre that doesn’t appeal to me for no better reason than that it doesn’t appeal to me. So in that case who cares what I think about it? If a novel bores me because it isn’t to my taste, I’ll stop reading, but I hope I know better than to sneer at it or trash it just because it’s not my kind of thing while meanwhile hordes of ecstatic readers are crushing on it. I’m also a realist. I think Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is poorly written. Do Dan Brown or his legions of fans or his banks or publishers care that the novel bored me? I don’t think so.

All else being equal, every novel I read would be totally fabulous; it would engage and enthrall and fascinate and interest and enlighten me or some combination thereof. Alas, it has not worked out that way so far in this life. I’m always full of hope, though. Each book I pick up is like a new day in some sub-tropical paradise, full of warmth and promise and the expectation of immersion in a balmy sea. I open its covers and say to that first word, that first paragraph, that first page: please, please, please, be a book I’ll love.

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There are 17 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Simon Haynes

    This has nothing to do with your post, but my local bookstore here in Western Australia has a shelf-load of your novels on display, and very smart they look too ;-)

  2. 2. Karen Wester Newton

    When I was young (as in high school age) I made a point to finish any book I started. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t have to do that. I owned the book, not the other way around. I would read the first few chapters and then let myself stop reading if I got bored. As I’ve gotten older, I realized reading a book I didn’t enjoy takes time away from other books I might enjoy, and so the amount of pages I will read before putting the book down for good has reduced to about five.

    You’re exactly right that not every book works for every reader. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Dan Simmons’ HYPERION. I gave it more time than I would have for an unkonwn writer because it’s a classic, but I just couldn’t get into the story. Now, if I had read it in high school, I would have stuck it out and maybe loved it, but I’m just not willing to make that commitment anymore. I guess I’ve become a book slut—looking for cheap thrills and unwilling to stick it out when things get dicey.

  3. 3. Marie Brennan

    I think many of us hit that change eventually — deciding we don’t actually have to finish every book we start reading.

    In my case, I give ‘em about twenty pages to show promise, or maybe fifty if I can’t make up my mind. But yeah: if they can’t hook me in that span, they’re probably not going to hook me at all.

  4. 4. Kate Elliott

    I guess I’ve become a book slut—looking for cheap thrills and unwilling to stick it out when things get dicey.

    Heh. Yeah, I’m not as stalwart as I once was.

    The first book I ever deliberately chose to stop reading– that freeing moment when I realized I did not have to finish a book I thought was kind of dumb–was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I was in high school, maybe 17. It was a revelation to me that I did not have to finish a book if I wasn’t enjoying it or thought it was dumb.

    Simon — thanks for the description! It’s such an odd field, where one works at one’s desk and rarely gets out to see if there is any actual imprint in the world at large.

  5. 5. Simon Haynes

    Next time I’m in the shop I’ll try and get a pic. Of course, with any luck they’ll have sold the lot by then, with another large shipment due any moment. (That’s the other good thing about our field … we don’t know for sure, we expect the worst, but sometimes good things are happening we don’t know about.)

  6. 6. Bran Fan

    When I was in seventh grade, my wonderful English teacher gave me the 50-page rule. If it hasn’t hooked you in 50 pages, put it down and do not go back. Life is too short to read bad books. How fortunate I was to have that lesson so early in life.

  7. 7. Migraine

    Corollary rule: don’t annoy me. Half the books I never finished just annoyed me. I’m thinking Stephen Lawhead here.

  8. 8. Bob

    This is not a manifesto. It’s just the usual self-absorbed blogwash that clutters up the Internet. “I have something to say, and everybody needs to hear it!”

    Don’t bore me? And as an example, you say Stranger in a Strange Land was boring. So, by your definition, this book should not have been written. Hmm. Okay, how do you feel about the Odyssey? Should we tell Homer to keep it to himself, cause Katey doesn’t like it? Get over yourself. (And by the way, one book I recently stopped reading halfway through, due to it being very not worthwhile, was the The Golden Key, which you had a hand in. In one swell foop I found three authors I’ll never bother with again. Just gawdawful.)

  9. 9. John

    wow… so it’s not a sin?! I always felt so guilty for not finishing a book or get bored and skim through them.

    Actually I still think skimming through boring parts is a bad habit but I think it was mostly due to forced reading.

    I will try that 50 pages rule…

  10. 10. Kate Elliott

    Bob,

    it helps to read what I actually wrote rather than forcing a false interpretation onto my words.

    First, the first two paragraphs (perhaps too subtly) suggest that I’m writing slightly tongue in cheek.

    Second, I specifically say that not all books are written to appeal to me; nor should they be. Not written to appeal to me means exactly what it says–that is, that I recognize that I will like–or dislike–novels that other people dislike–or like–and for varying reasons. That’s as it should be. Folks don’t all have to have the same taste.

    Nowhere do I say that books that bored me “should not have been written.” That’s your spin. Don’t put words in my mouth.

    Personally, I’m thrilled that Heinlein, one of the seminal sf writers of the 20th century, wrote “Stranger in the Strange Land” and many other novels. That I did not like “Stranger in a Strange Land” has no bearing on my opinion of certain other of his novels that I did enjoy. Dude, chill. I didn’t like that particular novel. It’s not that big a deal, unless you subscribe to the idea that everyone has to like (or dislike) the books you like (or dislike) exactly as you like (or dislike) them.

  11. 11. Kate Elliott

    Migraine,

    I like “don’t annoy me”. Because I’ve put down books that I was otherwise thinking were okay when I hit a bit of business that really annoyed me–sometimes because it was badly done but sometimes through no fault of the author’s if s/he happened to trigger one of my pet peeves.

  12. 12. Kate Elliott

    John,

    sometimes I’ll skim through boring parts if I’m otherwise liking some elements of a book. I always feel guilty about it, though.

  13. 13. Bob

    Actually, I’m re-reading what you wrote. I re-read it multiple times, to tell the truth, and I still don’t know what you’re trying to say. Tongue-in-cheek? I guess I don’t get your sense of humor. You start out saying “don’t bore me” and then backpedal to say that you realize books are not being written with just you in mind (which is big of you). So, the point being…if a book is boring, stop reading it? I’m totally lost. But then, I guess you’re not writing for me in particular, are you? I’m sorry I wasted everyone’s time stopping in here. Your blog and your books obviously don’t speak to me. Rather than get upset by it, I’ll move on.

  14. 14. Kate Elliott

    Bob,

    SFFNovelists is not “my” blog.

    It’s a group blog featuring daily (or almost daily) posts by a pretty cool mix of science fiction and fantasy writers (I post here once a month).

    If you’re not already, I invite you to browse some of the other posts by different writers. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here.

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Author Information

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.

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