When my protagonist is learning to use their magical skill, they must remain in hiding. Because they have not yet mastered their magical skill.

My protagonist is bored from being holed up for so long. There's very little to do beyond read boring books and practice boring magic spells.

How do I keep the reader from being bored too? Maybe I just shorten it all?

Edit: Just an update that these two chapters, after following Erin's excellent advice, are now two of my favorite chapters. :-) Thanks all.

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    Identification with a character doesn't mean that the mind-state of the reader is identical to the character's. It's possible to describe mind-numbingly boring situations with over-the-top-crazy and zany similes detailing at length just how bored the narrator is. Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 7:23
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    From what I read about it, Oblomov seems to manage this pretty well Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 8:21
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    Wasn't there a lot of boring classes in the first Harry Potter books? I think I remember they spending a lot of time in the library and Gryffindor's common room doing long and boring homework and the books being pretty effective at conveying that feeling to me without spending a lot of paragraphs on that, just some mentions here and there. Maybe someone can elaborate more on this, and give specific examples/quotes, it's been a long time; but I still remember that feeling pretty vividly (and not as a boring part of the book, but a boring part of their day to day life) :)
    – xDaizu
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 8:39
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    Douglas Adam's "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (a trilogy in 5 or 6 volumes) has "Marvin, the paranoid Android", who is so intelligent he is bored to death most (or is it all?) of the time. And oh my, he is far from being boring to read! That may be a good read to see how the author deals with it (well, not really a good exemple, as it is a comedy, and probably not suitable in your case, but I just couldn't resist mentionning it) Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 10:25
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    Not an answer, but a comment: If you are going to show it, be sure the boredom is necessary to the plot. Typical plot usages are motivation (to do something rash or different), or payment for a skill or power, or motivation for revenge in cases where the boredom was coerced.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 11:31

8 Answers 8


Use film and other literature to inspire you--in particular this song Do you Want to Build a Snow Man. The character is bored. There's empty hallways, but time passes and that's communicated in a number of different ways.

In literature Harry Potter is a really good example--boredom is handled well throughout his novels, you can look to any description of the History of Magic class for that. I believe that's Professor Binns...

Also, even though there's a unique framing device at work, The Princess Bride novel just has all sorts of fun describing boring stuff...

Here's a little Douglas Adams for you:

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

I think Raymond Chandler has a lot of bored detectives on stakeout, if I recall...

How a character HANDLES boredom is a golden opportunity to show who they are.

Device one: character cleans, straightens, alphabetizes and rearranges everything. Give a start time. Give an end time. The end time will be 5 minutes later. (For humor)

Device two: Practice Spells Repeatedly whatever the spells are, however "boring" the character thinks they are, they aren't. For instance, the cantrip firefinger (stealing from D&D) would be the equivalent of flicking a lighter on over and over again, something that someone might do if they are bored. I have no idea what these spells are that you are having them have access to but--you can show that, or show evidence of them having practiced them excessively to stave off the boredom. Someone can walk in and see that evidence. So like there's a spell that levitates feathers or objects, and the student is seeing how many of them they can keep going at the same time--dropping all of them when someone finally comes in and distracts them. If it's an impressive amount, it's a great way to show they are good at magic. Or it could be the magical equivalent of walking in to find hundreds of pencils buried in the foam ceiling when you come to pick up a kid out of detention....You can probably do this with ANY spell. Or a number of them.

Device three: Add flashback to the boredom.

Device four: Have them be creatively bored. A bored genius is not the same as the rest of us... YOU see a room full of boring books (maybe all the same book of the same size) but he might see something else entirely... A way to create a maze, Rube Goldberg machine, as a way to prove the grand unification theory of magic, and so on and so forth.

Device Five: Screw up the spells. If they aren't good, or careful, or their mind just wandered, let there be physical evidence of a spell got a little out of their control. They can be concerned with hiding evidence of their failure (placing books over a scorch mark or something like).

Device Six: They begin focusing in on small details, knots in wood, scratches on something, typeface lettering...this can be a goldmine again, because it can lead them to discover something relevant to the plot later on.

Device Seven: Show time crawling on, but be brief about it. The reader will get the point. See the Douglas Adams quote above for an example of that.

Device Eight: The Cutback Movies use this. Basically, a whole bunch of other exciting things are happening, meanwhile cut back to the bored person, and they are making paperclip chains stuck in a room. Exciting thing, cut back to bored character seeing how tall they can stack books, exciting battle, cut back to bored character who has now arranged chairs so that they can be upside down while they try to score goals with paper wads in the trash can...and so on. You said several chapters--honestly can't say that boredom covered in several chapters without interceding action happening at the same time would be entertaining.

You don't even have to describe what the character did, just have evidence of their boredom everywhere in the room.

In the Douglas Adams example, you'll notice, that boredom is very neatly conveyed in a very short description. The passage of hours and time is interwoven in the description. You should be able to describe the boredom in short. You don't need pages to do it, or even half a page, just a scant paragraph will do.

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    I came here ready to use a Douglas Adams example of describing boring things in a fun(ny) way in the remote chance someone hadn't already written a good answer. Great answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 20:01
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    Robert E. Parker's Spenser spends time on stakeouts or in jail planning the perfect all-star all-time baseball team. When he finally gets interrupted he'll say "I was just swapping out X for Y...".
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 9:17
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    Another great animated example from Disney (since you used Frozen) of plot exposition via character coping with boredom is the housework scene from Tangled.
    – brichins
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 21:48

Plot doesn't have to move at an even speed. Just as you can slow-motion over an important battle, you can speed up over long periods of time. A couple of paragraphs evoking boredom: staring at the rain, practising magic, staring at nature some more, counting days, whatever. Then move on to whatever ends the monotony.

A lull in the action is also a great time for your character to do some introspection: what do they think about the situation they are in? Are they afraid? Angry at something? Expectant of some even to occur? Maybe they reflect on the path that brought them to this point, and draw new understanding, that they didn't have time for earlier, in the heat of the moment.

Your novel doesn't need to be a roller-coaster. The slower places let your reader reflect on what your character has experienced so far, and where they are going next. So, ultimately, it is up to you: give the slow part as much meat as you feel it needs, and then skip on to the next interesting part.


If you can't think of a way to make this time interesting, then it's likely best not to dwell in this period of time after you've made the point. But being bored is entirely possible. There is a great montage involving Samwell Tarley in season 7 of game if thrones. He had been sent to get help from what is essentially a college; but he is ignored and given menial tasks. The setting works because the boredom is tinged with frustration. Here lies the knowledge of all men, and he is emptying chamber pots while his friends die.

If you want to keep the chapters you're going to have to have a conflict that amounts to more than boredom. And adding in any character that is going to give you something more. It doesn't have to be a friend, and it's probably best if it isn't. A foil that emphasizes his situation will be good. Ultimately it's up to you to conquer this problem, but you're probably right: boredom isn't worth several chapters of words. That's why the montage was invented.


While skipping over the part is perfectly acceptable (and common), it seems you want to convey to the reader the feeling that the character is bored.

What do people do when they are bored and have nothing to do? They retreat into their mind. You can go through the daydreams of your character, his memory of past events coming over him (a great opportunity for flashbacks if you need them to explain some backstory). You can have him go forward and imagine what he will do with his powers (foreshadowing or just playing with themes). Make it random, make it a wide variety of different things, reminding the reader here and there that he's doing all of that out of sheer boredom.


Make the character bored, not boring. Whatever the reason that you want to show how your character is bored for chapters, exactly that reason should be making the story interesting. If that doesn't make sense, your reason to have chapters of boredom is a bad one.

An example would be to show the contrast between interesting politics and an oblivious king being completely bored by that. While the story evolves around him, the character is bored but you have to show how the story evolves.

If however the reason for the boredom of your character is that the story is boring and there is nothing else happening, and nothing else that's interesting and that you can show, skip that!

You cannot sell a book that goes she was asleep, breathing in, breathing out, breathing in ...... a little snore .... for pages. But you can sell one that says while she was sleeping, someone stole all her stuff.


To add to the other answers given, I would think in terms of: What do people do when they are bored? This varies based on the makeup of the character. However, to paint in broad strokes, the more immature the protagonist, the more likely they are to get themselves into trouble because of the boredom.

Using this device you can make a very exciting bit in the story line. The end result can be as harmless as a little humor or it can show the seriousness of why they are in hiding and there will be a lesson learned that can propel the story forward.

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    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 17:05

Well there's always the role model of Charles Bukowski, who is fantastic at letting on that he's no longer thrilled but that makes him so much less sensitive that he's a master of the situation, at least as a storyteller. It's a very common situation, and, an interesting character in a boring situation kind of has a carte blanche to strut their (or your) internal muse out. Depending on the person in which the character is viewed, internally or externally, the responsibility of the narrator to keep things interesting either falls to the storyteller or the character or both.


Have the character day dream. You don't have to reveal it is a dream and they are bored until it is over. There is a whole story on this. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber.

  • You remind me of the old British sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. At various points, Reggie will relieve himself from the tedium and frustration of his life by imagining thing, such as a wrecking ball crashing through the wall and killing his boss.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 15:44

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