Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Too on the nose?

I'd never heard this phrase before a couple of months ago. A friend of mine had sent out an e-mail for some brainstorming help for some names of places in her WIP. She had a brief description of the places, but didn't want the place names to be "too on the nose." 

I didn't think things could be "too on the nose." How can something be too exactly right? 

Then I heard the phrase a couple of more times, including Drew Barrymore while she was being interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show about her new movie, Going the Distance. Stewart brought up the song with the same name by Cake. Barrymore said that she loved the song, but was glad they didn't use it in the movie because it would have been "too on the nose." Again, I ask you, how could something be too perfect for the situation? Plus, that song is awesome. 
So clearly, this is a new thing and I would like it explained to me because if it's good enough for Drew Barrymore, it's good enough for me. Anybody out there willing to explain it? Anybody? Buehler?


Anonymous said...

It is such a strange phrase. I think it's when you're pandering a little to your audience, telling perhaps.

Probably the best explanation I can come up with is, it's what Mad Men rarely does, and what CSI miami excels in, the dramatic pause, the removal of the sunglasses..

Eileen said...

Ohhhh. I get it. I hate that dramatic pause with the quip after it.

Maureen McGowan said...

I think Sinead is right about the pandering thing. Or something so obvious it makes you roll your eyes.

I grew up with that idiom, but have no idea where it originated. Now I'm interested. Surely the internetz know. Goody. Something else to procrastinate doing today.

Maureen McGowan said...

Ya... Brief internet search didn't yield much. It seems to just mean "exactly right".

But I think it can be a problem creating believability in fiction when something is exactly right, because so few things are exactly right. Even if in real life a child whose parents named her "Joy" might end up being a happy adult, choosing to name your overtly happy character Joy, is too on the nose.

My short google search came up with several links to screen writing articles and how to avoid "on the nose dialogue". Must go read those articles now so i can avoid my manuscript some more.

Eileen said...

Oh, yay, I've given us something new over think! :-)

Still . . . I don't see how the Cake song would have been too on the nose for the Going the Distance movie. Of course, I haven't seen the movie yet . . .

Maureen McGowan said...

Ah! It seems in screen-writer-land it means dialogue that's only there to give information. What I've heard novelists refer to as information dumps, or "as you know, Bob" dialogue.

Not exactly what your friend was talking about, Eileen, but interesting to know how screenwriters use it.

Now... to possibly generate discussion on this... I think on the nose names can be used as an effective device, too... Like shorthand for the reader.

Like the dark hero naming his horse Satan. But this can quickly drift into cliche.
I think that too much of this on the nose type writing is one reason romance gets criticized so often. Not that every (or even most) romance authors do this, but I do think it is (or was) common in the genre... Probably especially in gothic type stuff where place names and character names are used to evoke mood. Can be so corny it does the opposite.

Okay. Coffee break over. If I post again before I write at least 1000 words, slap me.

Maureen McGowan said...

I love Cake and would listen to anything by them, any time.

That said... I have laughed in movies when they've played songs where the lyrics fit a little too well. Sometimes I think I was supposed to laugh. Sometimes not.

**Oh. you slapped me.** I did ask for it. Off now.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think of the lack of subtetly when subtelty is called for. I should learn how to spell... If the going the distance song hammers home the theme of the movie - maybe that's too much. Sometimes subtelty is not needed -- the Mad Men example - this week was about as on the nose as it could be and in a sea of subtelty it stuck out and was absolutely brillant for sticking out.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Way to go Eileen. Now I have something new to worry about!

Getting it too right!

Eileen said...

Maureen, consider yourself slapped.

Molly, that's what Spellcheck is for.

Steph, always happy to be of service, my sweet. :-)

Anonymous said...

Unsubtle or overly and clumsily direct. Used when characters in a narrative leave no room for subtext with their eye-rollingly obvious dialogue. Not a general term for bad writing.

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