Monday, November 7, 2011

7 Ways to use Exposition Correctly (improved)

[New & Improved! (Is it possible for something to be both and improved?) This updated with examples for points 4,5 & 6]
The basic purpose of exposition is to tell the reader something he must know to understand and believe in the character and story. Rarely should exposition exist in a pure state. You can combine it with narration, description, and dialogue.  But any passage who's fundamental purpose is to impart exposition to the reader should be deemed an expository passage. Long passages of expository writing and description are considered passe in modern fiction and yet it is impossible to write a story without some amount of exposition. Therefore one should endeavor to make the exposition a part of the narrative flow. The method used to impart exposition is completely dependent upon the chosen point of view. violating this rule creates a story bogged down with useless detail and explanation. The characters become unrealistic and the story becomes unbelievable. Note this example:
I sat in front of the fire well aware of the boy approaching from behind.
The boy was frightened, but continued to approach. He had dealt with outlaws before and knew how cruel they could be.
This is horrible. How is it possible for the narrator to know what the boy was feeling and how could he be privy to the boy's thoughts concerning  previous encounters with outlaws?
1. Let the character give the information to the viewpoint character through dialogue.
I sat in front of the fire well aware of the boy approaching from behind.
"Mister? I'm scared," the boy said as he continued to approach, "I've had dealings with outlaws before. I know you guys can be cruel."
2. let the viewpoint character narrate the expository information in such a way that it is apparent he received the information from another character. For example:
The boy told me he was scared. He had dealings with outlaws before. he said he knew how cruel we could be.
3. Information the viewpoint narrator wants to convey to the reader about someone who is not present can be presented through dialogue with another character:
"I tell you Frank, that kid was scared out of his wits. Seems he had dealings with outlaws before and new we could be cruel."
4.When two characters are privy to information that needs to be told to the reader it can be expressed in a disagreement or an argument. This is a simple concept where the information is generated in dialogue.

"I don'r understand why didn't you take the boy down?"
"He said he was scared."
"No kidding, that doesn't answer the question."
"He left me curious. Apparently he had dealings with outlaws before and knew we could be cruel. I wanted to find out the particulars of his dealings. It could be he met up with one of our gang before. I wanted to make certain he hadn't told anyone else."
5.Information about the past can be expressed through the reminiscences of two or more characters.

"You remember that boy who tried to sneak up on your camp one night?"
"How could I forget? He was scared out of his wits. I thought he'd pee his pants."
"He had dealing with outlaws before, right?"
"Yep, Seems he got caught in a box canyon that some outlaws were using as a base camp. No one was there when he first got there so he began provisioning himself out of their store of victuals, he was in the middle of it when the guys returned from a heist all excited and ready to cause havoc. They caught him and took all their aggression out on him before spanking him, taking all his provisions, including that which was rightfully his  and sent him on his way under threat of death."
"Well, it's no wonder he was afraid of outlaws."
6. convey information about the past through the unspoken thoughts of the narrator.

I remember that boy was scared witless. He'd had experience with outlaws before and was not very enthusiastic about have to deal with another.
7. You should test your story for faulty exposition before your final draft by asking yourself  these questions:
a  Is the information absolutely essential so the reader may understand and believe in the character and story?
b. How would the viewpoint character know this information?

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