The fanfic I’ve read lately has been a bit too heavy on the old “as you know, Bob” deal, and it started to irritate me. So, here’s a few thoughts and examples on getting the information out without telling poor Bob all about something he already knows about.
You all know the drill. Somewhere in the story there’s a need to convey something that really matters to how things are going to work out, some basic information that a crucial plot point rests on. It’s not been exposed to the readers before, but if it isn’t explained, said readers are going to be wondering what the heck is going on – if they don’t introduce your story to the horrors of the recycle bin.
So the inexperienced author has Alan say to Bob, “Well, as you know, Bob,…” and explain to the readers while pretending to explain to Bob – who, to give due credit, doesn’t immediately say, “Try telling me something I don’t know for a change.”
This method of clueing the readers in is usually a chunk of character exposition, with Alan explaining away until the whole thing is covered enough to handle the upcoming plot point. Sometimes Bob joins in, explaining to Alan the next bit of whatever Alan was explaining to Bob.
The next step up requires Bob to be a bit clueless. This works if Bob has already been established as kind of clueless, or failing that not terribly knowledgeable in whatever the plot point happens to need. Alan still gets to exposition all over the place, although with this method Bob doesn’t help, but might ask stupid or clueless questions, like in the rather sad contrived example below.
“Alan? Why do we have to set off the bomb at the bottom of the dam?”
Alan pinched the bridge of his nose as if he was trying to ward off a headache – or minimize one. “Bob, the dam wall is made of rhubarbum. It won’t even shift if we hit it directly with a nuke. A bomb at the base won’t be picked up by the sensors monitoring the dam wall because they’re all positioned midway up or higher, and the bomb won’t touch the dam wall. It will break up the foundation work and loosen the ground underneath the wall, and that will cause small leaks.”
Bob frowned. “But we’re trying to break it.”
“The small leaks will get bigger until the ground fails and takes the dam wall with it.” Alan said a bit more sharply than was necessary.
See? It’s still mostly Alan lecturing.
A better method is to run a brainstorming session between Alan and Bob that lets the information out as part of the conversation, without one character lecturing another. Again, the example is pretty pathetic. It’s late, and I’m sleep typing – there’s not going to be any sparkling prose happening here.
“Hey Alan, you know that job with the dam? I was thinking, maybe we can’t break the dam wall itself but we can take out the surrounding rock wall in the gorge.” Bob sat down at the paper-strewn table and rummaged for the dam schematics. “Ah, here. The ground or the cliff walls would be the best option, don’t you reckon?”
Alan leaned over to look more closely at the diagram. “We can’t place anything too far up.” He tapped the image. “That sensor layout gives the enemy near total coverage from halfway up.”
After shuffling through a pile of satellite photos, Bob laid a single image beside the dam schematics. “Yeah, they reinforced it pretty solidly.” He made a sour face. “We’d have to crawl up the river bed to the base, maybe drop the ordnance about here.” He pointed to a location at the base of the dam wall, where the original river had once flowed.
“That could work.” Alan grabbed a pencil and started scribbling on the nearest piece of mostly-blank paper. “We’d need a yield of… It is pretty soft there…”
This method actually leaks quite a lot more information – but it also takes longer to write and needs more thought, but at least Alan isn’t lecturing Bob about something he already knows – or should already know.
The picture is Midnight and Westley supervising me. Very closely.