Updated: Apr 4
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 thoroughly and properly described, developed, and presented with sufficient literary skill. We provide this service out of respect for your valuable time, and because we’re lazy writers and the script is already late.
In other words, it’s cheap telling. Whenever I hear "we've talked about 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 use clever ways to hide exposition. There are creative ways to pick up a 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.
Hollow personal problems
Last night we watched the first episode of a new Netflix series. The first half of the episode introduced us to every character by our having to listen to bitter arguing between them about their personal problems that existed prior to the first episode.
However, at that point in the story it felt like I had just walked into a party filled with angry strangers, only to have them run up to me all at once and tell me their problems.
As a viewer, I must observe characters' actions before I can decide how to feel about them. It's the job of the writer to persuade me to empathize with the characters by allowing me to witness them experience something, not just let me hear about their troubles.
In legal circles this is called hearsay.
Let them stand up for what they believe
Instead of a character saying, “We’ve talked about this,” have the character stand up straight and say, “Honey, we need to talk because [explanation given here]” Now the reader can think, “I agree with her. Good for her! She has my support.”
Readers don’t care how many times characters have argued about an issue. If one character thinks another character needs to hear it again, then the other character gets to hear it again!
Such is more relatable to readers because this is how good people should behave in real life.