Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #1

Read This First!

McIntyre’s First Law:

Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.

Pitfall #1: The Expository Lump,
or,
“As You Know, George,
the Space Station’s Orbit Is Degrading Rapidly,
and We’re Running out of Air.”

Every sf story contains information that the reader must know. Getting that information across gracefully is difficult, but rewarding. Handing it to the reader in the narrative can be done carefully. Handing it to the reader in a lump of expository dialogue is generally not graceful.

Detection trick: If the phrase “As you know,” or “As you should know” would make sense in a line of dialogue, the dialogue is probably an expository lump.

Under no circumstances (except for broad humor) should you insert the phrase “As you know” into a line of dialogue, even if it would make sense. Especially if it would make sense! If the only way to get information to the reader (after you’ve sweated trying to get it in some other way) is by having one character tell it to another who already knows it, for heaven’s sake don’t draw attention to the fact by adding “as you know.”

Useful technique: It’s easier to describe something if it’s broken. If something is broken, then you notice it. If it’s working right, it just sits there being invisible doing its job. Not to be overused!

— Vonda

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Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #1 — 9 Comments

  1. I wish I could remember the source of this but some time this past week I read this out loud to Stu as one of the funniest lines we’d encountered recently. I can’t recall it exactly but it was something like

    “As you know, Lloyd, you are a Siamese twin.”

  2. Oh TOTAL apologies, because that’s not so funny II’m tired and getting over a bug and stupid.

    the line was
    As you know Lloyd, WE are Siamese twins.

  3. That last one from Jeff sounds like it comes right out of Jasper Fforde’s THE EYRE AFFAIR or its sequels where characters and people slide rather too easily in and out of fiction.

  4. Hi Jeff, hi Andi,

    And one’s ship may disintegrate because of being shot by “just a single photon.” (Can you tell I just saw Star Trek?”

    By the way, in another venue where I don’t have posting privileges, one of the comments accuses Nancy Kress of writing this blog post.

    Fond as I am of Nancy, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t like it if people thought she was one of my aliases. (I don’t actually have any aliases.)

    Just so’s you know.

    Vonda

  5. And of course right after I read this blog, I found myself reading a book to my daughter in which the writers wrote something to the effect of, “As you know, the builders of Stonehenge are unknown, but…”

    It actually made sense in context, but I laughed anyway.

  6. I believe the siamese twin line was from the movie
    Stuck On You with Matt Damon.