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Exposition

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by matt0044, Sep 25, 2019.

  1. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    In many fandoms, discussions on the writing of the books, movies or shows in question will often involve guaranteed go-to grievances. Among them, you are more than likely to find “exposition” in the top five at least.

    It’s been my observation that these “exposition” problems can often stem from a sort of insecurity in your writing. Have you proper established your setting? Your characters? What if your audience can’t follow what’s happening?

    This results in info dumps in the narration itself be it third or first-person in novels. Visual media will have characters monologue stuff that they and others around them should already know. Other times, it’s awkwardly placed in a point of the story where they should’ve already gone over it.

    It feels like most are afraid of the “show, don’t tell” mantra and think they’ll get endless complaints of how nothing makes sense. That a bad explanation is better than little-to-none at all.

    So... how does one handle these hang-ups?
     
  2. shoz999

    shoz999 The goofiest-looking dog I've ever seen. I LUV IT!

    One problem I often have is introducing a character that has a specific set of clothing's, hairstyles, and other range of colors. Sometimes I explain that they look through their clothings, usually pockets for an item of some sort, but then I wonder. How do I introduce their bag, their hair style, are they wearing boots perhaps or are they wearing tennis shoes? Do I save such descriptions later or explain it now?

    Then of course I think we all have our "Araki forgot" moments where we forget something important that we established earlier. It's times like these I should really keep a list of notes.
     
  3. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie "It is my destiny."

    You're mistaking "over-description" with "exposition". Unless the clothes are actually super important to the story in some form or another, such as a clothing line the protagonist(s) likes wearing being run by the villain as a front but the money's going someplace else, they're not expository.

    My rule for exposition is that I think it's inevitable you're going to have it throughout the story's life (especially when it comes to world-building, you're gonna have to leave some foreshadowing clues all over the place), but you should get out the majority of it in the first few chapters if you know for a fact something's going to pop up later on in the story that'll overshadow it (usually as a rule-breaker to show something's going to go horribly wrong) or use/borrow some elements. Disguise it in character dialogue if you must, but avoid the dreaded expository tellings such as "as you know", "have you heard", "weren't you listening", things of that nature. If you can't avoid it, then you should have characters there who wouldn't know of such things in-story, and so they'll have to be relayed it. It tricks the audience by making them feel like they're an actual part of the "out of the loop" group and so therefore it won't feel out-of-place or too infodumpy.

    Basically, authors are illusionists. You can disguise it in flashbacks/imagine spots if it's appropriate for the character to reminisce about it. Dreams work well as a framing device in that regard, as well as a story (like a poem or picturebook a character's reading) within the story. You just gotta get crafty.
     
  4. Venia Silente

    Venia Silente [](int x){return x;}

    I welcome exposition. Embrace it. You merely adopt exposition as a tool but I was born in it. As a worldbuilder, exposition is *the* thing, and at some points it is more intrinsic than the plot during the story. A good exposition rarely ever comes in the form of heavy infodumps except when that is in-characters (like, your characters go to consult the in-universe expert who literally wrote the book on the subject, so feel free to provide long-winded "in-universe quotes"). Rather, the world and the setting itself should provide the exposition by means of background-foreground contrast of the scope of character interactions. A pivotal character scene showcasing their attitudes might involve them buying a coffee, but the fact that even the arch-villain pays with credit card and it is not rejected (or is out of funds) already provides various clues about how the world's economy operates.

    Now, for the more worldbuildy stuff that would hardly come in in good form in an infodump but is also too tightly defined to have it merely be referred to as a background event, one thing most people forget is that we are in a hypermedia world. The important stuff goes into the primary source - your characters have to talk about the lore behind Emperor McBaddeed's magical powers if they hope to understand and beat them.

    Then for your readers who really want to delve into the magic system and figure out if Sarda's "make Black Mage puke" spell works verbatim, have the characters refer to an in-universe document and then de-fictionalize that by providing side materials linked to from the story, such as a wiki, article or reference bible, examining those various subjects.

    That way, everyone wins - the ones who come for the story and the ones who come for the worldbuilding.
     
  5. Aduro

    Aduro Mt.BtlMaster

    Clunky exposition is definitely one of the things that annoys me most, especially in teen fiction. Its best when its naturally introduced by people speaking or observing in-character. It kinda breaks up the pace too much when a character takes several paragraphs describing something that isn't relevant to the situation. Or goes on about things that they shouldn't really care about.

    There are ways to have fun with it though. The same characters can have be described as having different traits based on the narrator and what matters to them or how observant they are. Even the same character can reflect differently on someone after they have developed.

    What I will say is that you don't need to give every little detail of a character's design or backstory in a written novel. Just a few traits that help build up their personality. ie. this character has bitten nails, therefore your POV assumes they're of a nervous disposition. This character has patched trousers and badly worn-out shoes the reader can tell that they're very poor. This character has scars from shackles on their wrists, they have been imprisoned or enslaved. Every description the reader gets should shape the narrator's understanding of the other character, even the ones that are needed for the plot.

    In terms of their backstory, give little tidbits or interesting stories from their past. Or just let your readers guess. You don't need to explain that two characters are friends if they anticipate and support each other, or casually joke around with each other.

    When you do describe a character in detail. Make really sure that its a unique looking-character, described in an original way. Someone memorable that will run against your audience's expectations. Like the description of Roald Dahl's The Twits.
     

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