I love watching police procedurals, but I’ve lost patience with the dialogue-for-dialogue’s-sake. CSI: NY was one of the worst offenders. A group of the greatest scientific minds in one of the greatest cities in the world standing around talking:
Girl: Who would do something like this?
Boy: And why?
Seriously – was there ever an episode when they weren’t trying to answer those questions? There’s no need to remind me week after week that the goal is to figure out who committed the crime and why. The dialogue became an exercise in obviousness. Writers, of both screenplays and novels, seem to be losing faith in their viewers and readers. It’s no longer enough to tell a good story – now we’re told what will happen, shown it happening, then reminded of what just happened. On behalf of all quasi-intelligent people everywhere, please resist the urge to explain.
It wasn’t always like this. My husband and I recently watched Funny Farm, the 1988 film starring Chevy Chase. I loved the bit about the apple. Here’s the apple’s story:
– Andy asks Elizabeth if there’s an apple left. She says no.
– You see Andy’s head on Elizabeth’s lap as you hear her humming. CRUNCH! Humming. CRUNCH!
– The next morning Andy steps on an apple core.
– Weeks later, in the midst of an argument, Andy says, “What about the apple?”
I didn’t need to see Elizabeth eat the apple or throw away the core or admit to Andy that she’d lied. Screenwriter Jeffery Boam trusted me to remember what I saw less than 60 minutes ago. He let me put the pieces together.
This explaining epidemic isn’t unique to television and movies. I’m always reading novels in which the hero thinks about where he wants to go, moves, then spends a chapter thinking about he got there. Please, take a cue from Boam – trust me to remember what I’ve read. Give me the benefit of the doubt. I’m a pretty smart cookie. I bet I’ll figure it out.
Trust your reader, writers. Resist the urge to explain.