Writing Tips & Tools

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lesson #6 - Exposition

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we are continuing editing lessons from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

These lessons will be shortened overviews of the chapters and by no means should be a substitute for buying the book. I'm rereading but not posting a lot of good stuff!

Let's continue with exposition.

Everything we've said about characterization applies to exposition as well. Backgroung, backstory, the information your readers need in order to follow and appreciate your plot...all these should be brought out as unobtrusively as possible.

The most obtrusive type of exposition is, of course, a long discourse in the narrative voice. The same thing holds true for interior monologue.

Perhaps the toughest expostion challenge is introducing your readers to a new culture. This could be something as simple as conveying everyday life in rural Tennessee to readers who may live in Palm Beach (or visa versa). How do you transport your readers to strange new worlds without loading down your opening with a lot of expostion?

Bear in mind that this kind of background is really characterization, only what's being characterized is a culture rather than a person. and as was the case with characterization, readers can best learn about your locations and backgrounds not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life.


Look back over a scene or chapter that introduces one or more characters. How much time, if any, have you spent describing the new character? Are you telling us about characteristics that will later show up in dialogue and action?

How about character histories? How many of your characters' childhoods have you developed in detail? Can some of these life stories be cut?

What info (technical details, past histories, backgrounds) do your readers need in order to understand your story? At what point in the story do they need to know it?

How are you getting this information across to your readers? Have you given it to them all at once through a short writer-to-reader lecture?

If the exposition comes out through dialogue, is it through dialogue your character would actually speak even if your readers didn't have to know the information? In other words, does the dialogue exist only to put the information across?


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