Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reasons for Rejection: "As you know, Bob" Dialogue

Happy Sunday everyone! And welcome to my first official non-intro post on Operation Awesome!

As mentioned in my introduction post two weeks ago, I am an intern at a literary agency and one of my responsibilities involves reading the slush pile. The agency asks for a query, synopsis and the first fifty pages with submissions, but usually, I can tell if something is for me in the first ten pages.

Within the first ten pages, I either fall in love with the voice or I don't. There a lot of different things that make me fall and love and a lot of things that make me reject but today we are going to talk about a reason for rejection I call "As you know, Bob" dialogue.

This is a way of exposition dumping that seems clever because it is done through dialogue but comes off sounding very unnatural because... well... the characters have no reason to bring it up. Consider this scene.

"I can't wait to visit the rain forest this summer." Bob said.

"Are you sure? As you know, Bob, your parents were killed by a vicious tiger in the rain forest leaving you an orphan when you were very young." John replied.

This is a slightly exaggerated example, but the issue should be obvious. John is telling Bob something he already knows. Why bring it up? Its not as if Bob spontaneously forgot this life scarring trauma. This dialogue is here solely for the benefit of the reader and it comes off as awkward.

Exposition is hard. We have to find lots of clever ways to hide it. Sometimes we stick it dialogue but if not executed right, it will stand out like a sore thumb and the agent will be quick to throw the pages in the rejection pile, as natural dialogue is one of the most important elements of any novel. So what's a simple way to fix 'As you know, Bob' dialogue?

Simple: Put someone in the conversation who DOESN'T know.

JK Rowling is a genius in many ways but the best thing she ever did for the Harry Potter books was to make the main character Harry Potter, a boy who knows nothing about the wizarding world. He has to learn as he goes along, just as the audience does. In this way, Harry is an effective narrator. If he was a wizard like Ron it would be much harder to explain the world to the audience without some exposition riddled dialogue.

Exposition in dialogue is fine. But make sure that it makes sense. Put a confused outsider in the mix and you are on your way to a much more natural conversation. And that's another reason for rejection you can cross off your list!

5 comments:

  1. Ugh, I could pull wonderfully shameful examples of this kind of dialogue out of my early writings. I think I've gotten better at avoiding this, but as you know, Aimee, 110% of writers can be delusional ;)

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    1. I do know this thing :) Trust me, I can pull out many a bad piece of 'as you know, Bob' dialogue from my own old writing. Sometimes I let it slip into my new writing too. The struggle never ends!

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  2. It's so weird--after I read this, I'm seeing, "As you know, Bob" everywhere--in my writing as well as other people's. Someone else actually used the phrase "as you know" in their piece! Thanks for pointing this out--such a great example and way to improve craft.

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    1. Yaay! I'm glad I gave good advice! It was one of the most helpful pieces of advice given to me at writing camp years ago!

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  3. So true! I love this post. Where it drives me crazy the most is when I see it in movies. Even a flashback is better than that (but not much, lol).

    Thanks, Angelica, for sharing. And Aimee, you have my dream job, wading through a slush pile every day. -- Maybe when I retire from five kids... ;)

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