Wait, wait, don’t tell me.
The primary use of dialogue is to convey information. We do it all the time in daily life.
The problem we run into, when writing, is when we make the mistake of having two characters explain things to each other that they both already know. It goes under a lot of names, but I learned it as “As You Know, Bob,” and it is pretty rife in genre fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy.
But very few people talk that way in real life – and if you’ve ever known a chronic over-explainer, you’ll know that it gets old very quickly. You don’t want to bore or irritate your reader, so here are three things you can do with dialogue instead:
1. If you need to introduce your strange concept, (and you cannot just show it for some reason) have the character who knows about it talk to another character who is entirely ignorant of the affair. This isn’t ideal, but you can get away with it if the ignorant party isn’t too on-the-nose with their lead-in:
“I don’t get why you want to steal that stupid macguffin anyway,” is a less-obvious prompt than
“But just what is the value and purpose of this macguffin, professor?”
The less direct it is, the less the reader is going to feel like he’s being stuffed full of info-dump.
2. Put a lampshade on it. Lampshading is when the author tips his hat in the general direction of the audience, acknowledging the cliche he’s currently indulging in by wryly poking fun at it. In this instance, I would have the Professor who is always telling the other characters things they already know (but the reader doesn’t) be characterized as a twit and a blowhard. The other characters will interrupt him, beg him to shut up, and perhaps even literally put a sock in his mouth.
3. The final dialogue info-trick (and this is some next-level-shiz, imho), is to have your characters talk around what’s going on, letting the reader fill in the blanks. It’s harder to execute, but worth the sweat.
“What about Ted?” Rachel asked.
Sue shrugged and turned the key in the ignition.
Rachel unfolded her sunglasses and shoved them on her face. “I never liked him anyway.”
It is pretty safe to assume that Ted’s dead. Not entirely safe. But that also gives you, the writer, the freedom to either resurrect Ted three chapters later, or never mention the guy again. And, it engages the reader, which is what you’re really after with this whole storytelling business anyway.