Boring Research

Yesterday through this morning has been research on site for something, I have no idea what. The First Reader, sitting in the dark with me at the wee sma’ hours, suggested I make this post about cranky old men and bad hospital beds. So… yeah. He’s cranky, and recovering, but it’s a good thing, not a bad thing. This was a repair of damage and ought to make him better than ever. Once he’s allowed to get out of the godsdamned hospital bed and into his own.

I hadn’t necessarily approached this as research from the beginning, although I’d learned something yesterday – under stress, I can’t write. I knew that.  Under sufficient stress, I can’t even draw, or focus enough to do much of anything other than sit in the waiting room – and I was perfectly healthy and fairly comfortable. It’s not the first time I’ve dealt with stressful situations, by any means. But there is a difference between being in a situation where you are doing something, or can do something, and one where you are sitting on your hands until news comes. I was contemplating this sensation in correlation to story situations while I was trying not to watch the board… this hospital has a nifty thing where they give you a number (for privacy reasons) and you can then keep an eye on progress similar to watching flights come and go at the airport.

Waiting is, inevitably, part of life. I’m not fond of it – is anyone? – but I find it very difficult to write into a story. It’s boring. So much easier to skip past it and back into some action. The trick is to skip it, while still giving the readers some idea of that passage of time, where nothing is happening, and our hero is biting his nails with worry waiting to hear news. Otherwise, you get the sensation of hurtling through story at breakneck speed with no pauses to breathe.

Because while sitting in a waiting room watching the clock is highly stressful boredom, there’s another kind. Restorative boredom. Sitting on a beach sipping a cool drink and watching the waves roll in. Sitting in a dark room watching your new born baby’s face while they sleep. You should be sleeping, too, but… Sometimes you just want to let time roll past you like the tide. When it turns is time enough to get back into the action. To be torn away from the peaceful boring times that keep you going through too much excitement…

Because it’s easy to get to a point where you’re addicted to the rush. Where you have to be doing something all the time and boredom is intolerable. Some of the characters we write, well, normal society isn’t for them. They couldn’t deal well with a 9-5 job and the boring minutiae of meetings and inventory and the same tasks week after week. Can’t you imagine how well that would go over with them?

Which may be, of course, why we write exotic adventures far away from us in space, time, and reality. We’re bored with our lives, and our brains provide us with the escape to a less boring world we can live in a time or three, before plopping back into cold reality. Sitting on a hospital couch waiting on the doctor to come say you can go home and sleep in your own bed and eat your own food. Because that’s at least your boredom,  not someone else’s. And this is a perfect time to read…

(Header Image: Shaggy Dog sketch by Cedar Sanderson)


  1. Otherwise, you get the sensation of hurtling through story at breakneck speed with no pauses to breathe.

    I’ve read a few stories like that and, incredible as it may seem, I grew bored with them, mainly because I just ceased to care about the protag. The rush of action buried who the character was.

    When I’m writing, I lean on Dwight Swain’s “scene and sequel” structure (from Techniques of a Selling Writer) to vary the pace and the focus of the story. Swain’s “scenes” are action; his “sequels” are both character reaction to what just happened and an interesting way to move the story through larger intervals of time and/or space. Jim Butcher used this scene-and-sequel rhythm all through his Dresden File series.

    1. Dwight Swain was a creative writing instructor at the University of Oklahoma. Probably much later, Jim Butcher learned creative writing at the University of Oklahoma from someone else.

        1. Maybe they all independently decoded the secret from the lyrics of Boomer Sooner. 😉

        2. I first ran across it in Bickham — and I have subsequently advised people to read Scene and Structure but with salt shaker in hand.

    2. Michael Bay Syndrome, in other words. When you’ve made giant robots boring, you’ve really failed.

  2. I’ve started reading the book _American Dunkirk_ about the water evacuation of lower Manhattan Island on 9/11. One of the things several of the sailors interviewed talk about is the abrupt let down and their reaction. They went, went, went, and then, ‘Thanks. Yous guys can go home now.” That was it. Some relaxed, some got drunk, others shook, a few started looking for other things to do to keep moving and burn off the energy they still had.

    1. Around 1960 some military guy’s plane failed at 50,000 feet. He bailed out and got caught in a thunderstorm. He rode the storm cell up and down for about forty-five minutes with sheets of lightning all around him. Eventually he hit the ground and got to a hospital. The book I was reading said it took him three days to get the adrenaline back out of his system so he could sleep. He just kept walking around and around and around.

          1. Story I remember reading was a short snippet in one of those Believe it Or Not! books as a kid; a WWII pilot got shot out of his plane at 10k feet, the parachute failed and he survived – by falling into a snowbank. This sounds so much more lethal though O_O

            1. I remember that story, there’s a Wikipedia entry on the guy. He was made prisoner by the Germans, but they were so amazed by his survival (I think he didn’t even broke any bone), that he didn’t suffer as much as other prisoners, if I remember correctly, he befriended a German soldier and they both went to Argentina after the war, and he survived miraculously a second time an accident involving some chemical (ClH perhaps? )

  3. > go home

    Quite often the guy who decides that is an employee-doctor at the hospital, not the “attending physician” who might have sent you there. He has a vested interest in maximizing the length of your stay.

    Neither I nor my wife are great fans of hospitals. We found that if the stay is planned, it can often be very short; for orthopedic surgery I could leave the next day, and after her heart surgery, two days.

    Of course if you’re sick instead of being carved on, things can be very different… but still negotiable, providing you have your own doctor on your side. If IV drugs or specific wound care are an issue, those can often be done by home-health services.

    Generations of antibiotic misuse have resulted in a vast array of nasty drug-resistant infections, and hospitals are good places to get them. I know two people with disfiguring scars from MRSA infections. I’m ugly enough as it is…

  4. Oh, yes. The — challenging work of suggesting how dull everything is for the main character WITHOUT making it dull for the reader.

    Or an non-exciting anxiety — in Madeleine and the Mists there was a period where the good guys were waiting for the villain to make his move — and knew it probably wouldn’t be until after winter. I severely condensed it, of course, but I had to suggest the waiting time. From the author’s point of view, it was essential because it was plot-essential that the two women who had gotten pregnant during the course of the plot had to give birth at significant times.

    Therefore I will give the free advice: events that are fixed length complicate the time line. Not just pregnancies, of course. If you set up your magic system so that the heroes can do certainly magically effect stuff on equinoxes and solstices — you’ve just given yourself three months gaps for your characters to get through without dullness or obvious padding.

  5. Don’t know whether this helps, but when I need to indicate something rather placid, I find that’s a good time to show character by letting my ‘people’ complain, fuss, or otherwise show what they’re about. Good for background/mini-info dump, as long as it fits in.

Comments are closed.