Thursday, 10 October 2013

A bundle of ways to approach exposition

In last week's writing course, we were playing with exposition - and coined a new word, "to exposit".

(It does already exist, but with a slightly different meaning, so we get to keep our claim to coinage.)

When the writing's swimming along, we don't even notice the exposition. When it's not... Several paragraphs info-dumping a confusing tangle of politics or a complex bit of solar physics. A laboured explanation of a room or country's layout, until the reader feels they should be drawing a map. An awkward explanation of who this new character is and how everyone knows each other. A hasty backpeddling full of "hads" to bring the reader up to speed. All stuff we want to avoid, through deft and elegant exposition. These are the strategies we brainstormed, as a handy reference for when it's not all flowing artlessly from our pens:

smells / sounds can give clues to location ~ actions can give clues to character ~ see it ~ implication ~ be selective ~ a character explains to another ~ argument ~ character's natural thoughts ~ unexpected contrast / against expectations ~ character's observations ~ silences, meaningful looks ~ reaction to event / setting ~ add bits when they matter ~ dialogue ~ signifiers ~ out-of-kilter reactions ~ little by little dripfeed ~ map ~ letters to... ~ tone in dialogue ~ flashback ~ diary entries ~ dreams ~ prologues ~ photo albums ~ other people's conversations ~ whole scenes to act it out ~ subtext

What technique works depends on what you're expositing (relationships, back story, world-building, setting, specialist info about your book from politics to particle physics), how much space you have, and your writing style. But every time the narrative grinds to a halt for a clunky chunk of explanation, we can scoop out the explanation and weave it back into the flow.

Feel free to add any useful strategies of your own in the comments.

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