Why exposition is necesssary

Hah, I realized after my last post that I probably should have clarified a bit more.

Most stories need a certain amount of exposition. That is, the reader needs to have certain amounts of information in their possession for the story to make sense. Otherwise they toss the book at the wall (or delete it from the ereader).

The problem lies in figuring out how to share the information without driving the reader away from the story. Generally, huge chunks of dry information are bad; the reader gets bored and stops reading. Painfully artificial conversations had by the characters are also bad; because the dialogue is forced, the reader will again want to stop reading. The only author ever to get away with this kind of conversation is Shakespeare, and frankly, even he often sucked at it.

:Puts up umbrella to guard against thrown fruit:

Most good writers try to drop small bits of the information throughout the first part of the story, so they don’t overwhelm the reader. Some of it will be in dialogue, some in character thoughts. Some will be in light descriptions of an area, and sometimes it’ll be in prologues. Whatever works for the story.

I find that if there is too much information to convey, maybe I should consider writing another story first, because obviously if there’s that much to share, better to ‘show, not tell’.

Also, sometimes, we as writers overshare. The readers often don’t need to know every last detail of the backstory, no matter what we might think as we’re writing. Better to be sparse in the rough draft and have your beta reader ask questions about things, than to pour in so much information, your reader finds it all too overwhelming.

Save the exposition in a different file, so you don’t forget it; I really hate it when I forget why I’m writing something, lol.

The Messenger II by andreas rocha


4 thoughts on “Why exposition is necesssary

  1. Uh, Shakespeare? I can’t think of any forced expository dialogue in his stuff. But then, he’s not meant to be *read*, he’s supposed to be *watched*. Whole other cuppa tea, drama (or script writing, I’d think). You can fold up that umbrella again now.

    I totally know what you mean about oversharing. I think that’s especially a problem for us Wrimos – because while we’re NaNo-ing, we want as much words as possible, so, heck yeah, go on for three pages about your MC’s great-grandmother’s first boyfriend who emigrated to Australia and hooked up with a wombat, even if it’s only marginally relevant to the plot and a reader wouldn’t give a damn. It’s a good habit for Nano, but a bad one for turning out “good” writing. However, there’s always editing…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find a lot of the opening scenes in Shakespeare very clunky, even when done as a play, I’m afraid. “Why hello there, person I have not seen in twenty years! How goes it?” “Well…” and proceeds to set up the plot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, true enough. And then there’s the prologues: “Two households, both alike in dignity…” That’s about as exposition-y as you can get. But you can forgive a lot of a 400-year-old dude. (And then there’s Dickens. Holy cow, did that guy ever waffle on! But that’s a different topic.)

        Liked by 1 person

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