Monday, 26 April 2010
Do you recognise the title of this post?
I'm not sure if it's a commonly used phrase outside of scriptwriting circles, but certainly back when I was writing plays, we used to talk about this concept all the time. It's to do with expository dialogue, hence particularly relevant to scriptwriting, but also applicable to other forms of writing.
"As you know, your father the King..." is a conventional example of really bad dialogue. Not only is it never necessary to tell someone that their father is the King (well, except maybe Oedipus!), any dialogue including the phrase "as you know" should probably start ringing some warning bells!
I wrote about exposition a couple of months back, with a little exercise to show how much can be implied (and inferred by the reader) without resorting to a nasty infodump of expository text.
The whole point of "As you know, your father the King..." is to remind you that allowing the characters to spout exposition is just as bad - if not worse - than doing it in the narrative voice. Characters should never speak out of character; most of the time, that means they're not stating a load of facts.
Think about it. How often do you tell someone something they already know? And if you do have to tell someone a thing you think they should know, you're probably going to get frustrated.
I just re-watched Monsters, Inc. (a film I love) and was struck by the really awkward exposition in the opening scene. Even though the infodump is almost-justified in context by being addressed to some new recruits, it doesn't quite work, because the speech covers some things that everyone in the Monsters world should already know. It just feels stilted.
Films are full of bad dialogue, and if your eyes are open to it, you'll easily spot dozens of examples for yourself. It's a little bit harder to identify with books, but I find that reading the dialogue aloud (without the surrounding description) can help to make sure it flows.
If you get the urge to have your characters relate facts about their situation or their world, just remember to check: is this really for the benefit of the character they're talking to? Or is it a clumsy way of relaying information to the audience?