When a character tells another character something they obviously already know, this is known as ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, and it can take readers out of the story because it is so jarring and unnatural.
Another name for this occurrence is ‘maid and butler’ dialogue – because it originated from Ancient Greek playwrights who would often open their plays with a kind of prologue where two minor characters (such as a maid and a butler) would be ‘overheard’ by the audience cleaning up after a party (for instance) and relaying lots of things that they both know for the benefit of audience.
The biggest pitfall of ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue is that it can come across as clunky and artificial.
When characters in a story have a conversation that only exists to convey information that both characters already know, it can feel like a contrived way for the writer to fill in the reader on important background information or plot points.
This kind of dialogue can make the characters feel like they’re simply mouthpieces for the writer, rather than real people with their own motivations and agendas.
In short, ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue can take the reader out of the story and make it harder for them to suspend their disbelief.
‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue examples
Here’s quite an extreme example of ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue that should have you rolling your eyes:
‘As you know, Smith, our ship’s ion thrusters are running at full power, which means we’re traveling at warp speed through the galaxy.’
‘Yes, I know that, Captain. I’m the ship’s chief engineer.’
‘Right, of course. I was just reminding you.’
As we can see, this dialogue is clunky and awkward, and it doesn’t feel like a natural conversation between two characters.
To avoid this, we could try a different approach. Instead of having the captain explain something that Smith already knows, we could have him provide new information in a way that links to the immediate action.
‘Smith, we’re approaching a dangerous asteroid field. I need you to divert power from the ion thrusters to the shields to protect the ship.’
‘Understood, Captain. I’ll make the necessary adjustments.’
This dialogue provides new information about the situation that the characters find themselves in (the approach to the asteroid field), and it feels like a natural conversation between two colleagues on a spaceship. The information about Smith being the engineer can be woven into the narrative elsewhere – having the character rely this information to someone who already knows it is not the way to go!
Here’s another example, perhaps a bit more subtle:
‘The Dark Lord having risen again poses a grave threat to the kingdom. As we all know, he is gathering his forces to attack us here in Torbark Castle.’
‘Yes, Your Majesty, I’m aware. I’m one of your trusted knights, after all.’
Again, this dialogue is clunky and feels forced. To make it sound more natural while still getting across the information needed, we can take a different approach:
‘Sir Brandon, we’re running out of time. The Dark Lord is amassing his armies as we speak. I need you to lead a cohort of knights to our northern border to fortify our defences.’
‘Of course, Your Majesty. I’ll gather my best men and head out immediately.’
In this example, we’re still providing important information to the reader about the threat facing the kingdom, but we’re doing it in a way that feels more natural and engaging.
Whereas the first iteration contained mostly information, this rewrite also contains drama and action.
We also don’t need to be told that Sir Brandon is one of the king’s most trusted knights – that’s evident in the fact he gives him such an important task!
So, how can you avoid ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue in your writing?
Firstly, it’s important to consider why you’re including the information in the first place.
Is it essential to the plot or character development? If not, consider leaving it out altogether.
If it is important, try to find a more natural way to introduce the information.
For example, you could have one character discover the information for the first time and have it explained to them, rather than assuming they already know it. Or you could reveal the information through action or description, rather than dialogue.
Another option is to use a more natural form of dialogue that doesn’t rely on exposition.
For example, instead of having one character say, ‘As you know, the victim was shot in the chest,’ you could have them say something like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before. The bullet entered through the left and exited through the right. It’s a miracle they survived even this long.’
‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue can easily sneak into a piece of writing, especially in an early draft. When writing, it’s easy to be so focused on getting ideas down on paper that awareness of language and structure isn’t as acute as it might be!
Authors might think that they’re providing important information to the reader, but what they’re actually doing is creating a conversation that feels unnatural and forced.
This is why it’s so important to be vigilant about avoiding ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue in your writing.
By taking the time to craft natural, engaging dialogue, authors can better keep their readers hooked and make their stories come alive on the page.