When was the last time you walked into a grocery store and loudly announced to companion, “Well, here we are at the grocery store, four blocks from our house.”?
In the real world, people rarely– if ever– give obvious descriptions of their actions, to themselves or to anyone else. However, in film, television and literature, this is an ordinary occurrence.
The “As You Know, Bob” conversation, as it is called, serves an important purpose in fiction literature. It helps to give readers (or watchers) a clear image of the story’s setting and the reasoning behind a character’s actions. “As You Know, Bob” conversations can also fill readers in on the history of characters and locations.
“As You Know, Bob” serves an important function in quality literary composition. Good fiction writing involves the “Show, Don’t Tell” principle, which posits that an author should depict the the words and actions of characters instead of explaining their reasoning. The “As You Know, Bob” conversation helps to accomplish this task.
A poorly written prose story– one that tells rather than shows– will usually omit the “As You Know, Bob” conversation. Although this is more realistic, it is less effective in illustrating the occurrences of the story. For example, an inexperienced writer might say,
Jenny was disappointed with her Christmas gifts that year. For years, she had been asking Santa Claus for a Malibu Barbie, but this year’s Christmas stocking held only a store-brand knock-off.
A more effective way to tell the story would involve the “As You Know” Bob conversation.
“Santa must have thought I was bad this year,” Jenny exclaimed tearfully, holding the limp golden stocking in her hand. She turned to her mother, her pink lip protruding pitifully against her chubby chin.
“He gave me this doll that looks like Barbie,” she sniffed, “But it’s not the same thing. You know that I’ve been asking for a Malibu Barbie for a very long time!”
Effective and Ineffective Use
It’s not likely that a child would tell her mother how long she’d been asking for a specific gift– at least, not in this specific context. Nor would it be necesary for her to explain why she was disappointed with the pseudo-Barbie gift. However, Jenny’s exclamation effectively told the story, while also developing Jenny’s character.
Quotations, which “show” the story, tend to be more entertaining and less tedious than descriptions, which “tell” it. However, some forms of the “As You Know, Bob” conversation are excessively unrealistic. While Jenny’s words are at least somewhat believable, it would have been far less effective to say,
Jenny pouted when she opened her Christmas stocking.
“Mom,” she said tearfully, “I’m really disappointed. I’ve been asking Santa for a Malibu Barbie for three years, but he just gave me this store-brand knock-off.”
A young child thinks in terms of a “long time” and a “short time”– not in terms of “three years.” Young children are also unlikely to explain their emotions with terms such as “disappointed.” And, unless Jenny is unusually aware of consumer economics, she wouldn’t be familiar with the phrase “store-brand knock-off.” In this case, the “As You Know, Bob” conversation has not worked effectively because it does not work within the character’s limitations.
As you hone your skills as a writer, you may find yourself using the “As You Know, Bob” conversation frequently to illustrate the actions and thoughts of your characters. Understand how to use this literary device effectively, and you’ll significantly improve the quality of your writing.