As You Know, Bob

You may not be familiar with this term, but you know it. You’ve seen it on movies, read it in books, maybe used it in stories of your own creation.

Used well and subtly, it can be a useful tool. But, unfortunately, it is not easy to use well. Or subtly.

“As You Know, Bob” is a type of conversation where the point of the conversation is to relay key background information to the reader/viewer.

Sounds good, right? Key information! We like that sort of thing, yes? So what’s the problem?

Here’s the problem:

Two scientists are standing over a computer panel. The first one turns to the second one and says, “We’ve finally done it.”

“Yes,” says the second one. “As you know, we’ve managed to create the perfect weapon. It works by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turning it into a concentrated beam of death.”

“No one has ever managed to get this to successfully work. There hasn’t been a weapon this powerful since the end of World War III and the disarming of the major world powers through the Peace Treaty of 2365.”

“This is our last, best chance against the alien race which has tried to mine our planet for its resources.”

Do you see the problem? While this conversation may tell you important information, it is also a conversation that no two people would have, ever. These characters already know this information. This is basic information for this world. No one needs to say this stuff because everyone already knows it.

The only reason this conversation exists is for the reader. It does nothing for the characters. And so it rings false.

You’ve probably noticed conversations like this that bothered you, even if you didn’t know why.

There’s ways to make things like this work. You can have a character explain things to a character that doesn’t know (and, hopefully, has a reason to know). You can weave bits and hints through the narrative, so readers can pick it up gradually, naturally.

Even a line here and there can be okay, if there’s a reason for the character to say it.

But overall, it’s something to be avoided.

Any tips for integrating information in a less jarring manner, Squiders? Examples of this that drive you crazy so people know what to avoid?

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