The Seven Things To Leave Out Of Your Book, by Jack Heath
The cardinal rule of writing for young adults is this: never, ever be boring.
Boredom is a thing of the past. I only dimly remember it. Most teenagers have never experienced it at all. Sure, they might have seen a bad movie or attended a dull class at school, but the days of doing literally nothing for eight hours while strapped into a car seat are long, long gone.
For this reason, when writing a book for teenagers, what you leave out is often more important than what you put in. It’s crucial to ensure that there are no boring bits.
I try to leave the following things out of my books (because they bore the snot out of me as a reader). I’m sure I’m not the only one who hates this stuff, so you may want to consider removing it from your own books.
What the characters are wearing. There are some circumstances under which an outfit says something about a person (a lab coat, a crown, stinking rags) but they are rare. If you think there’s a fundamental difference between a character who wears jeans and one who wears cargo pants, then you have been brainwashed by the fashion industry.
Eye colour. Stupidly, many authors seem to think eye colour is significant. Even more stupidly, they almost always choose blue.
Romantic sub-plots. If your story revolves around a love affair, that’s fine. But if you just shoehorned in a romantic sub-plot as “something for the ladies”, then please shoehorn it right back out again. (Screenwriters are especially guilty of this.)
Trivial anger. If the main character is angry because the villain cut off both her feet, then that’s great. If she’s angry because you needed to create conflict and nothing else interesting is happening, then maybe you should just skip ahead to when something is happening.
Religious subtext. Put it in if you need to, I guess – it’s hard to tell a story that has no personal significance – but be aware that you’ll alienate the two-thirds of the world who don’t share your beliefs.
Transport. I don’t really care how the characters get from one place to another. A single word covers it. Train. Car. Horse. In fact, here’s a new, improved opening line to The Lord of the Rings: ‘Wow, it sure took us a long time to walk here,’ said Frodo, as he looked up at the gates to Mordor.
Genealogy. When Tristram Shandy wasted his whole autobiography trying to get around to his birth, it was a joke. By the time Salman Rushdie did it with Midnight’s Children, it wasn’t funny any more. You know whose parents were never spoken of? John McClane. Anne of Green Gables. Atticus Finch. James Bond. In short, every good character ever.
Next time you read a book, take note of the boring bits. Next time you write a book, leave them out.