Weirdness was happening on our TV. My husband noticed it first. When I finally heard it, I wasn’t sure I’d heard it. It’s only on certain channels. And less noticeable in cartoons. But during regular programming it is well—weird.
While the action is happening a voiceover explains the action. As the characters sat down at a table and during their conversation, a voice interrupts the action to explain they are sitting around a table and opening beers. Then the voice tells us the character Paul has a frown. Then the voice explains Tammy is touching his shoulder after handing him a beer. Then she walks out of the room. Talk about slowing down the action, pulling me out of the story making me want to run away screaming.
It took a call to the cable company to solve the mystery. Everyone is probably aware TVs come with the capability of closed caption for the hearing impaired. But did you know there is a language button on your cable box for the sight-impaired? They can listened to the dialog and an explanation of the action. How the language button got activated is still a mystery. Having the same problem on more than one TV became a mystery for the cable company to solve from their end.
Broken sound =broken scenes
But this misadventure is not a total loss. This annoying mishap reminded me of on-the-nose dialog. The kind of dialog …well, let me illustrate.
“You look upset, Clara.” Brad remarked.
“Do I?” Clara questioned.
“By your furrowed brow and tapping foot. Not to mention your crossed arms I’d say so.” Brad observed as he neatly arranged her favorite lunch of chicken salad sandwich and tomato soup on her desk.
“You are so observant. How well you know me.” Clara added with a glare.
Brad placed his hands on her arms and pulled her to him to stop her from tapping her foot and erase the furrowed brow with one of surprise. Clara wrenched his arms away continuing to glare. He thought he was so smart. Well, she’d not have it.
“Oh no you don’t. I’ll tap my foot if I want to.” Clara declared.
Pretty awful isn’t it. Can you see the on- the-nose writing?
Let’s rework this piece to avoid on-the-nose and give us hints into their relationship. I apologize in advance for its lack of polish. I want to show the obvious diffence. So, he it is.
Brad noticed Clara’s warpath stance, crossed arms, tapping foot and furrow brow. It screamed get out of my way.
“So who ticked you off this time?”
Brad sat the lunch sacks on her desk before facing her.
“You know me so well.” Clara’s sarcasm had no effect on her assistant.
“Are you going to tell me or wear the floor out pacing?” Brad leaned against the desk watching her.
Clara made a few more laps before she stopped in front of Brad. Their eyes locked for several seconds before Clara sank into his arms. Muffled sobs wet his shirt.
The second grouping tells us so much more about their relationship than the first. And his inner observation is that little voice for the visually impaired telling us what we need to see. On TV where all the actions and facial expressions are seen, the additional information is aggravating. On the nose writing can be just as annoying. The action in a story needs just enough of that little voice to create the scene and place the reader in the moment. Your word picture needs to compliment the dialog and give it a real feel.
Did you see the difference?
How often have you caught yourself pausing while reading and saying… “Thanks, Captain Obvious.” You know, when you read “I’m so angry.” She said angrily.
On- the -nose writing is so easy to do, and it takes a few read-throughs, usually by others, to catch the more subtle ones. Like my TV, you may need help from the professionals to fix the problem. But once you’ve eliminated it, your words will sound much better. Your readers will embrace your characters as friends and enjoy learning their story.
Have you caught any on-the-nose writing in a published novel? Do you find it in your own writing? Please tell me about it in the comments.
If you’re interested please click the button on the right to sign up to recieve new posts in your email.