As you know, writing dialogue is not for sissies. It has to sound believable, yet be informative and move your story’s plot forward.
This is hard to do. Recently, my editor called me on a clunky section of dialogue in Fire and Ashes, my second Angela Richman, Death Investigator novel. Angela works for the medical examiner in mythical, ultra-wealthy Chouteau Forest, Missouri. At a homicide, the death investigator is in charge of the body and the police handle the crime scene.
In my new novel’s first chapter, I tried to slip some important information into what was supposed to be casual dinner conversation between Angela and her colleague, Katie.
My editor caught me. She wrote: “Angela has lived in the Forest her whole life, right? This conversation with Katie seems a bit unnatural, like it’s only for the reader’s benefit (an ‘as you know, Bob’ conversation).”
Never mind what Angela said. It’s gone for good. But “as you know, Bob” dialogue – commonly called AYKB – is everywhere. It pops up on TV daily, and is especially popular in soap operas and medical dramas. Here’s an example:
Surgeon 1: “As you know, Bob, the patient is turning blue and choking, which could result in brain death unless the obstruction is removed from his mouth immediately.”
Surgeon 2: “Okay, I’ll take out his foot and he’ll still be able to run for election.”
In novels, AYKB results in clunky dialogue like this:
Dude 1: “Bunny is engaged to Esmeralda Gotrocks.”
Dude 2: “You mean the Massachusetts Gotrocks, who came over on the Mayflower?”
Dude 1: “The very same. Their great-grandfather owned Gotrocks Railroads, and in 1898 he married Adelaide Overbite, sole heir of the powerful oil family. Esmeralda’s father is Senator Gotrocks.”
Dude 2: “Good old Bunny. When’s the wedding?”
Huh? There’s no need for those middle sentences about Esmeralda’s family. Everyone in those circles already knows it. That dialogue is there to let the readers know Bunny’s fiancee is rich and connected. AYKB dialogue states the obvious. It tells your readers what they need to know, but has nothing to do with what the characters need to know.
Our own James Scott Bell in his book, Revision and Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction), warns about awkward information dumps. The key is to make your dialogue sound natural.
I like the technique Nelson DeMille used in his thriller, Wild Fire, to deliver a lot of information. Detective James Corey and his wife, FBI Agent Kate Mayfield, are working to unravel a terrorism plot in the Adirondacks. They are city people and know nothing about this vast, wild area in the mountains.
DeMille has Corey driving on a nearly deserted mountain road, while Agent Mayfield reads him information they need to know about the park and the private land where the Custer Hill Club may be plotting to start nuclear Armageddon.
DeMille writes: “Kate had picked up a few brochures from the airport and was perusing them. She does this wherever we go so she can enhance her experience; then, she regurgitates this stuff back to me, like a tour guide.
“She informed me that Saranac Lake, the town and the airport and this road, was actually within the boundaries of Adirondack State Park. She also informed me that this area was known as the North Country, a name she found romantic.
“I commented, ‘You could freeze to death here in April.’
“She went on, ‘Large parts of the park have been designated forever wild.’
“‘That’s pretty depressing.’
“The area designated as parkland is as big as the state of New Hampshire.”
You get the idea. DeMille is smart enough to make this a habit of FBI Agent Kate Mayfield. He delivered the brochure information without sounding like a brochure. You’ll have to read Wild Fire to find out if Mayfield and Corey save the world, but DeMille saved us from the dreaded AYKB.