Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eureka, Duanne Walton! (And Why, "As you know, Bob," Doesn't Always Work)

Side note to Duanne: We, all of us at WriteOn! Joliet, missed something very obvious. Why can't Jen dial from a rotary desk phone? Think of the year of the novel. A rotary phone is very plausible. THEN, her thought is totally in line. Brilliant, huh?

For everybody else, (including Duanne): read on:

One info dump fiction writers often use (and poorly) to "show" knowledge the reader needs to know goes like this:

Joe: Having a baby girl really surprised us, because, as you know, Bob, we had decorated the nursery in blue.

Joe: I was really disappointed to catch a mackeral, because, as you know Bob, I prefer bass.

Joe: I don't want to attend my class reunion, because, as you know, Bob, all the kids picked on me.

Usually, when we know someone knows, we don't talk that way. But even when we writers recognize we're being this obvious in dialogue, we don't recognize that we're "info dumping" when penning our characters' thoughts. Most of us (unless you're as old as I) don't remind ourselves of things we know. For example:

Joe stood in front of the mirror. He picked up his comb with a lean muscular arm. He stood six foot three with touseled blonde hair that was just starting to thin, even though he still had the bulky frame of his high school football years. He looked down at his feet and wished they were smaller. It was so hard to find shoes these day.

Joe watched the new employee settle down at his desk. He remembered him, all right, the former next door cranky neighbor of his childhood, that one that yelled at him for cutting through his flower gardens, picking apples from his tree for an afternoon snack, and petting his Collie without permission.

Even better:

The new employee sat down at his desk. Joe's chest tightened, and he threw down his pencil. Him, again!

And let the reader discover why Joe dislikes the new employee.

Finally, an excerpt from Staked! I'm letting the reader know what John-Peter himself hasn't admitted to himself, having full confidence that the reader is able to deduce it without having to spell it out (cliche, FYI) in an info dump:

            At school Monday, Karla was leaning against his locker, waiting for him.
            “I threw away the mandrake root,” she said, avoiding his eyes.


             Karla meekly stepped aside, and John-Peter flung open the door. “Good. You ruined it.”
             “Can you get me another? I’ll let you carve it.”

             “I can’t do Curtis Chandler justice.”

              Karla blushed and bowed her head. “I didn’t mean for it come out that way. It’s just that.…”
              Her voice trailed off. John-Peter slammed the door and spun the dial, but, as he turned to leave, Karla caught his sleeve.

            “John-Peter, have you ever been in love?”

             His mouth went dry. He dropped a door and asked in a low voice, “Why do you ask?”

           “Because I think I’m in love with Curtis Chandler.”        

            The boy flinched as if she had punched him, but he only said, “Shouldn’t you be telling this to Curtis?”

           “I wanted to know what you thought. We used to tell each other everything.”

            Karla’s voice broke, and John-Peter glanced at the crowd of students filling the hall. He hated Mondays.

“The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder what happens next, not to explain to them what just happened.” David Mamet

I hope you're wondering what happened next.


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