Writing Tips & Tools

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lesson 9: Exposition

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section One: Exposition.

We all star in our own movie. No one's life has, for each of us, the immediacy and importance of our own. Nothing is more significant than what is happening to us right now....believe me, I can identify with that thought!

This may sound self-absorbed, but it is a measure of the intensity with which we experience our lives, and the importance we attach to the things we do!

The protagonist of a novel is no different from us in that respect, or needn't be. Characters with poorly developed inner lives cannot sustain reader interest. Don't write endless passages of gushy exposition (interior monologue0, rather bring out the protagonist's self-regard that shows reflection, self-examination and the true sense of who the character really is in the story.

Self-observation can make a character enormously appealing.

Step 1:In your manuscript pick a moment when the POV character does not react to what is happening, or when in fact nothing is happening and the action of the story is paused or static.

Step 2:Write a paragraph of exposition delineating this character's self-conscious thoughts about her own state of mind, emotional condition, state of being or soul, or perception of the state of the world at this point in time.

Note: It can be as simple as "He felt lousy" or as complex as "The Hegelian paradigm was shifting." Sooner or later you must bring a reader inside your character's head and show us what's going on!

Follow-up: Repeat the above steps at four more points of deep exposition (where we experience a character's thoughts and feelings.)

Conclusion: Passages of exposition can be among the most gripping in your novel. When nothing overtly is going on, make sure that a great deal is at work beneath the surface. Otherwise your novel will have dead spots that your reader will skip!


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