The Doofus Character

Sometimes readers will more easily accept the premise if they understand what’s happening from a technical point of view. To achieve that without a huge info dump a frequent technique used in movies is to have someone who doesn’t understand ask a question. My wife and I refer to that person as The Doofus Character. They serve a particular narrative function, to allow the audience to receive the explanation of something technical in a way that doesn’t seem contrived.

The way it usually works is that someone in a group of people will be less experienced than the main character. When the main character uses a technical term, the Doofus Character will ask what that means, and the main character will explain it to them in simple terms that both the Doofus and the audience will get. Let’s use a medical show as an example. A doctor and some medical residents are talking. A high school intern stands to the side, listening. Pardon the bad dialogue.

DOCTOR: Let’s order an MRI for Mr. Jones.

INTERN: What’s an MRI?

DOCTOR: It stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It takes pictures of what’s inside the body.

INTERN: Don’t X-rays do that?

DOCTOR: Sort of, but X-Rays only give us pictures of bones and joints and some soft tissue, and they have to use radiation to do that.

INTERN: So, what do the MRI rays do?

DOCTOR: The MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create very detailed pictures of every organ inside the body, and inside the organs too. We can learn a lot immediately without harming the body, or having to cut into it to look around.

INTERN: Oh, cool.

Like the examples in the previous post, this is more common in movies than in literature because films need to telegraph information more quickly, but it’s used in literature all the time as well. There the doofus person is often referred to as the Watson Character (as in Dr. Watson, who asked Sherlock Holmes all of the right questions so Holmes could expound on them).

Have you noticed any methods an author uses to disseminate information that you thought were particularly effective? Tell me about it below.


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