As you know…a look into dialogue
Merry gazed into her computer screen at the twelve avid readers of her blog and countless others who popped in every now and then to see what she was writing this week. “You know I love you all,” she said with a wistful smile. “I’ve been writing this blog now for ten years, publishing it every Sunday morning. I cover topics of interest to new authors and old. I write about writing craft including point-of-view, dialogue, characters, and my favorite, story structure. I also write about how to self-publish your work since you all know that I format and coach writers professionally and have been self-publishing myself, now, since 2011.”
Her readers blinked back at her waiting for her to continue.
She didn’t. She just looked at them, wondering if they were going to say anything.
No one did until, finally, one of them spoke up. “That’s great, Merry. We’re really happy for you. We enjoy getting your weekly blog in our inbox. If we like it or find it even remotely interesting, we’ll hit the “like” button to let you know that we’re here and we read it.”
The others around that person all nodded their agreement and then turned back to Merry in expectation.
So, what’s the point of that little dialogue? Did my character (Merry) tell the other characters in the scene anything new?
Nope. She didn’t.
She told them what they already knew. So why did she say it? Because I, the author of this piece, know the readers of the novel I put that dialogue into don’t know that my protagonist has a blog or what it’s about, so I, the author, tell them, through dialogue—tell, don’t show, right?
This is called “As you know, Bob”. It’s where one character tells another character in a book something they already know because the author knows that the reader doesn’t already have this information and they want them to. It usually concerns backstory: “As you know, Bob, when we got divorced ten years ago and you won the house, and I got the kids…”
Yes, Bob knows that. He was there. He’s still enjoying living in that house, child-free. But the reader of the book doesn’t know what happened ten years ago, so the author tells them… through dialogue.
It makes a book a wall-banger (that’s where you get so fed up with the stupidity in the book you’re reading that you throw it against the wall—for those of you who don’t know the term. I don’t actually throw books against a wall anymore because I read ebooks and I got tired of having to buy new Kindle e-Readers).
So why do authors write “As you know, Bob” dialogue if it just makes their readers annoyed or angry?
I DON’T KNOW!
The only thing I can think of is that they aren’t actually reading what they’re writing, nor are they thinking very hard about it. They are on a mission to convey as much backstory information to their reader that they can, and they know they shouldn’t just put in an info-dump paragraph. They put it into dialogue instead.
Do they put it into dialogue to someone who doesn’t already have that information? Nope! They could, though. That would work. If Mary goes to gaze longingly at her old home and a new neighbor comes over to talk to her thinking she’s the owner of the house, she can tell that random person about her divorce ten years ago and that that bastard ex-husband of hers took the house but left her with the kids and nowhere to live, but no, she’s not angry or bitter about that at all—heh, heh, heh. Please don’t rush to call 9-1-1 if you hear any explosions this evening, it’s all fine. 😊
The author could also sprinkle the information in throughout the chapter or even the next few chapters without making it an info dump. That would work.
The one thing every author really shouldn’t do is make their protagonist an idiot – unless, of course, they need to be for the purpose of the book, then sure, go ahead, make them an idiot and the reader will sit chuckling at the character’s stupidity. Generally, though, readers don’t like characters who are TSTL (too stupid to live).
Another thing you really, really shouldn’t do in writing is assume that your reader is an idiot. You don’t know who’s reading your books! Assume they are intelligent enough to figure out that when Mary is telling Bob about their divorce that Bob would already have that information. Have her tell someone else or leave it out altogether if it’s not really important. Our readers are intelligent people, treat them as such.
“So, my dear readers,” Merry said to her seven avid readers and the few others who were still left paying attention most of the time when not answering questions of their children or wondering what they were going to have for lunch, “As I just demonstrated, I will endeavor to give you new or at least interesting information going forward. But you know you can always reach out to me to tell me what you think or give me a topic you’d like me to cover either through my contact me page on this site or by commenting below.”
“We knew that,” Bob said, sitting back away from his computer.
“I knew you knew that,” Merry told him.
“Then why are you telling us this?” Mary asked, pulling her cat away from the camera so that we could see her and not under the cat’s tail.
“Because I want you write better, smarter, and more compelling work. I want you to engage with this blog and keep coming back. And, of course, because I want you to think about your dialogue. Read it—and I mean really read it… out loud,” Merry said stressing the last few words to try to convey the importance of what she was trying to say.
“Oh, uh… okay.” Mary said, petting the cat that was now in her arms.
“Thanks. And thanks for being here.”