Saturday, January 15, 2011
Aspiring Advice: Knowing About "Bob"s
I'm incredibly late this week, aren't I? My apologies. Entertaining the family and working on the reread has been oodles of fun. I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful. It's borderline neurotic if you ask me, but we're not here to talk about that or its relation to one of my favorite comedies. They do share something in common, however. They both have annoying Bobs!
Have you ever heard of "as you know, Bob?"
A while ago I wrote about info dumping, giving the reader lots of backstory and history all at once, something that first time writers tend to do in hopes of filling the reader in. I've since learned that it's more interesting to give backstory and history as you tell the story. Intrigue us with your present setting and characters first and the rest will follow, but enough about that. What, then, is this "as you know, Bob" business? I take this to mean 'info dumping through dialogue.' I'll provide an example.
Perhaps a princess is about to meet a suitor and a handmaiden tells her "you're next suitor is arriving soon," followed by a monologue of descriptive attributes about the guy. He's not in the scene right now. We don't need to know what he looks like here or what feats he's accomplished. Let him do that when he shows up. It also doesn't help the story if the girl knows about this guy to begin with. What has happened here is the writer using a side character to provide information for the reader at the character's (and story's) expense. This type of info dump is often said by butlers and maids, but also through friends or side characters.
So what about this Bob? How can we avoid him so our stories do not get bogged down? I've found there's no set way, but I screen for Bobs with these questions:
Does my character already know this information?
Does the person speaking know more than they should?
Does it give information without building suspense?
A yes for any of these and you've got a Bob to deal with. Better look out for them in your stories so they don't come back to haunt you later, or tempt you into chucking or burning your manuscript altogether. Some might consider this a form of writer's Death Therapy . . .
Avoid 'as you know, Bob' to avert storytelling disasters.
How do you avoid "as you know, Bob"s in your writing?