Updated: Mar 10
When I watch a movie or read a story, and one character says to another, “We’ve talked about this,” or, “We’ve gone over this already,” my mind is thrown from the story because such a declaration announces the following:
We, the writers, have spared you from witnessing ongoing repetitive, bitter arguing over an extended period of time, and hereby certify that all implied conflict performed outside your awareness has been described, developed, and presented properly and thoroughly and with sufficient literary skill. We provide this service out of respect for your time, and because we’re lazy writers and the script is already late.
In other words, it’s cheap "telling."
And whenever I hear "we've talked about this," or "we've gone over this," I think, “I haven’t talked with you about anything! Don’t tell me what I should think without presenting me with argument, fact, or context.”
Conversely, good writers often use clever and just ways to hide exposition. There are creative ways to pick up the story's pace, such as when,
A forlorn and unkempt man walks slowly down a sidewalk
and looks up to see a sign on a building that says, Help Wanted.
Such a sentence provides chapters of rich imagery that isn’t specifically stated. It doesn’t feel like "telling" because the author has made an effort to present something to the reader.
Last night we watched the first episode of a new Netflix series. The first half of the episode introduced us to every character's emotional problems by our having to listen to bitter arguing between them about issues that existed prior to the first episode.
However, at that point I didn't know who was in the right or in the wrong. How was I supposed to take emotional sides? How could I have empathy for characters I've just met and didn't know?
It felt like I had just walked into a party filled with angry people I don't know, only to have them run up to me all at once and tell me their problems.
As a viewer, I must see characters' decisions and actions before I can decide how to feel about them. It's the job of the writers to persuade me to empathize with their characters by watching them go through life, not force me to bear piles of troubles with no information to go on.
Instead of a character saying, “We’ve talked about this,” have the character stand up straight and say, “Honey, you need to do this because....” Now the reader can have some pride in the character. Now the reader can think, “I agree with her. Good for her! She has my support.”
The reader doesn’t care how many times characters have argued about an issue. If the character thinks he needs to hear it from her again, he gets to hear it again!
Such is more relatable to readers because this is how good people should behave in real life.