A Smart & Savvy Group of Authors who write a weekly feature for their blog -Writer’s Words of Wisdom- each Wednesday. The goal is to impart what we’ve learned about writing, editing, getting published, book promotion, and more along the way.
I recently started a book, a short story really, but after only the first sentence, I’d decided the writer was either a newbie or it was a reissue of an old work. Why? Because that very first sentence contained what we refer to in ‘the biz’ as an “As you know, Bob.” It’s a mini info dump delivered when one character is talking to another and is the author’s clumsy attempt to get the info to the reader.
I won’t post the actual line from the work I was reading, but here’s an example of a succession of As-you-know-Bob lines:
“Yes, Dr. Smith. I’ll take care of all the patients while you’re gone. It’s my job, I’m a nurse.” Sally Brown shook her head. “The little girl in 203 has pneumonia complications on top of a severe case of the flu and I’m worried about her but that won’t affect my care of the others. As head nurse here in the children’s ICU, it’s my responsibility to see to every patient. They all depend on me. You needn’t worry about me favoring one patient over another.”
“I wasn’t suggesting you would intentionally, Sally, but losing Kimmie, our long-time patient last week has everyone hovering over our little girls like mother hens. I happen to know you took it particularly hard, probably because you lost your sister when she was only nine.”
Do you see what’s
wrong boring not so exciting here? The parts I’ve italicized are things both parties already know. It’s backstory and we really don’t need to know all of that in the first few lines. In real life, they wouldn’t reiterate these things to each other in this way.
I mean look at it like this, suppose you’ve got an admin assistant and her boss talking. He says, “Here are some notes on the James matter. Can you make the letter sound nicer than I would?” She’s not going to respond, “Yes, boss. I can do that because I’m your secretary and have been for ten years.” He knows that. She knows that. There would be no reason for her to say it.
Yes, in the first example, the reader gets a lot of information, but it’s delivered in a clunky way and we don’t get any emotion between the characters or feel close to them. It’s author intrusion into the story. Here’s another version of the same scene:
“Yes, Dr. Smith. I’ll see to all our patients while you’re gone.” Sally Brown shot God’s Gift to Nurses a quelling look and headed away from him.
She pretended not to hear.
Thane Smith caught up with her as she entered her office. He closed the door behind him. “I didn’t mean to suggest–”
“You questioned my professionalism in front of my nursing staff based on information divulged in a private moment. That’s low.”
He stuffed his hands in his lab coat pockets and nodded. “I’m sorry. It just slipped out. I’m concerned about you.”
“You can’t have it both ways, Thane. If you don’t want a relationship, you can’t continue to act as if we do.”
– – – – –
If you’re a romance writer, you know why I’ve left off the bit about the kid’s condition and the sister dying in this version. That’s not the story. It may have a bearing on this couple’s story and most likely parts of that would come out later in the scene or chapter, but not here. If this is my beginning, I want the reader to identify with my characters emotionally, to get a grasp on their personal situation, not on all the extraneous ‘stuff’ in their life. “As you know, Bob.” doesn’t accomplish that.
Even without that information, we still end up learning quite a bit about this couple through their conversation and not an “As you know, Bob” line in sight.