The late Michael Crichton has a book called Travels which is more or less an autobiography of his early life. How he entered (and eventually left) medical school, selling his first few novels, and getting involved in the great, grinding machine of Hollywood. It’s a bit dry at points, but there’s some pretty interesting stuff in there. Including a fun story about how he once almost killed Sean Connery with a speeding train. Also how he and his girlfriend were molested by an elephant while camping in Africa.
If those last two sentences don’t make you want to buy that book, you have no real business being here.
For our purposes today, though, the important thing is a piece of writing advice young Michael got from his dad. If you want to know the full story behind it, again, grab the book. I’ll give you the short form.
Be very careful when you use the word obvious or its adverbial kissing cousin, obviously. It’s one of those words that should always get a second look in fiction, nonfiction, email, random message board posts, and so on.
If something isn’t obvious, it sounds arrogant to say it is. Think of all those times you’ve asked someone a question and they’ve answered you with “Isn’t it obvious?” If it was obvious we wouldn’t’ve asked the question (actual or implied). What the speaker or narrator is saying is, effectively, “I know I’m way smarter than you idiots and want to gloat about it.” So, if this is the situation, don’t use the word obvious, because the character or narrator in question is going to look like a jerk.
Unless, of course, the character saying so is supposed to be a jerk.
On the flipside, if something really is obvious, then you still don’t need the word. Things that are obvious are… well, obvious. The sky is blue. Sugar is sweet. Ninjas are cool. Expensive things cost money. Oxford is a good school. Nazis are bad. Colonel Hans Landa is very bad. Car crashes hurt, especially if you’re outside the car. All these things are, in fact, obvious to everyone, so it’s just wasted words for a writer to tell us so.
Try it. Use the “Find” feature to look for obvious or obviously in your latest manuscript and see how often you really need it.
Except for that one guy from Pod Six. He needs it. He’s a jerk.
Next time, by request and also by a series of conversations, let’s have a little talk about God and other gods.
Until then, go write.