Quiet or Boring? You Decide

There’s been chatter lately on a few of my writing loops about quiet books. Everyone defines the term differently. Some suggest quiet books are stories that are forgettable, that don’t have exciting plots or that have stakes too low for the characters. Agents and publishers sometimes refer to quiet novels as low concept. By that, they mean books without flashy hooks or any obvious marketing angle, which makes them hard to sell. To those who don’t like them, quieter books are considered boring and a waste of time.

And yet, there are readers who love quieter novels. To them, the moniker ‘quiet book’ isn’t negative. It doesn’t mean a boring or plotless read. Instead, proponents define quiet books as introspective, character-driven stories that are rich with language and emotion. They frequently say that while the story may not be huge, the books take them deep into the character’s world and those characters always resonate in a personal way. Some even suggest that quiet books say things about the human condition that their faster-paced counterparts can’t touch on. Quiet books make ripples rather than waves. And yet ripples can be powerful in their own way too.

Around the same time as the quiet book discussion took place, a writer friend died. Jodie’s passing was sudden and unexpected, and it came just a few weeks after my father’s death. I couldn’t help noticing the different responses. There was an outpouring at Jodie’s passing. It was indicative of the fact that she touched a great many lives. She was an author and, before that, a school teacher and principal. My father, on the other hand, touched far fewer lives, and the response to his death reflected that. One life much quieter than the other, and yet both touched and impacted others.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to equate lives with books. Perhaps, as someone pointed out, the reason many people don’t enjoy quiet books is we live quiet lives (especially these days with Covid), and we’re looking to escape into a larger, noisier world.  

Whatever your taste in books, I’m on board with children’s author Barbara Park. She once said, “I happen to think a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that’s huge.”

So, whether it’s a book or a life, whether it’s quiet or roaring with action, if it touches us in some way, that’s enough. That, as Barbara Park said, is huge.

7 thoughts on “Quiet or Boring? You Decide

  1. I LOVE quiet books! I agree that they are “introspective, character-driven stories that are rich with language and emotion,” and that is what interests me. There is ample conflict and also emotion in ordinary every-day lives to make fascinating reading. And I like realism, not over-the-top fantasy. Human emotions, thoughts, and reactions are endlessly interesting.
    And I agree, too, that if a book gives you a smile, that’s wonderful. Or a tear. Or a character that sticks in your mind for months afterward.

    1. I love them too, Lea. Like you, I find human emotions, thoughts and reactions endlessly interesting. And if a character comes fully alive for me that’s usually enough to grab me and keep me reading.

  2. I guess I would have to say, I’m not sure if I like quiet books! I do like books that have memorable complex characters and I don’t need a lot of action, but I do want there to be interaction and movement. I want the plot to move forward in some way, if that makes sense!

    1. It makes total sense, Debra. I just finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which is my favorite book this year to date. I’d definitely class it as a quiet book. As was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, another great read!

      1. Okay, good! I was thinking Eleanor was a quiet book, but wasn’t completely sure. I like both quiet and some where there’s a bit more “flash”.

  3. Count me in as a fan of the “quiet” book. I love stories that delve deep into people’s emotions and character with, hopefully, a life lesson attached. Surely the enduring nature of Jane Austin testifies to the power of “quiet.”

    1. I have to say I like both, Alice, depending on my mood. There’s definitely a place on my shelf for those quieter stories that delve deep into character.

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