Tell Me The Truth – Is My Exposition Showing?

Most of the content of my blog is for entertainment value, but once in a while, I like to throw everyone off and post information that may be useful.  I could be aspiring for too much, but I hope you find this informational AND entertaining (kind of like when you get free dessert after a scrumptious dinner).

In my writing class a few weeks ago, the instructor covered how exposition (descriptions) in a story should be handled.  This piqued my interest because sometimes I catch myself giving too much information in my stories – I often have to edit out quite a bit after my first draft.  I don’t like to read books that have a full page (or more) describing every detail of a room or what everyone looked like.  I’ll be honest; I save myself a few minutes and flip ahead until the story gets back to the good stuff:  conflict.

So, here are some tips the instructor gave us on how to handle exposition:

  • Surround exposition with conflict.  The description of necessary details holds the readers interest if conflict is present – the reader can’t skip pages because they will miss something important.
  • Add exposition in bite-size, small doses.  Give one or two important details about a character or setting.  No need to describe every little detail.
  • Present exposition when the reader is eager to know it.  Here’s an example:  instead of telling the reader at the beginning of the story that a character is afraid of water, provide that tidbit right before he’s forced to plunge into a lake.
  • Implied information is more interesting than direct information.  This one is hard to explain, so I’ll use the example given in class:  He can breathe okay as long as no one unplugs him.  (meaning:  the man is in the hospital)
  • Twist another’s emotions to get information.  Information forced from a character is more interesting.  Think of it this way:  if you ask a friend what they did last night and they avoid giving you a direct answer, doesn’t it make you more curious and you ask more questions?  (Maybe you don’t, but I’m nosy-I do.)

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please add a comment to share.  Happy writing 🙂

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10 thoughts on “Tell Me The Truth – Is My Exposition Showing?

  1. 2blu2btru November 22, 2010 / 6:22 AM

    I try to describe people’s appearances in their reactions to conflict or information. For example, I would describe a character’s face when they hear someone has died, mixing a description of their features in with how the emotion effects them. I like to sprinkle in their interior thoughts then, as well. I guess that one is your sprinkle in with conflict in small doses.

    The best tip I ever got for exposition was to use strong verbs rather than adjectives or adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are most subjective than verbs, and the reader could interpret them differently than you meant them. For instance, saying someone walked slowly or walked away dejected versus saying they shuffled away, shoulders slumped and head hung down.

    Don’t take my serious writer’s card for saying so, but I like the character descriptions in Harlequin romance novels (not the descriptions of rooms and places, though; they can go on for a whole page about Holland’s countryside, and I skip it sometimes).

    It sounds like you’re learning a lot in your class.

    • jannatwrites November 22, 2010 / 7:44 PM

      I completely agree with using strong verbs. When I do my first draft, I end up with a bunch of wimpy verbs with adverbs. I love the shuffled away sentence you used as an example.

      Harlequin, huh? I never would have suspected 🙂 I have read a romance or two and they do describe people very well, I guess so we’ll fall in love as they fall in love.

      Thanks for your 2 cents!

  2. nrhatch November 22, 2010 / 9:07 AM

    Excellent list!

    Like you, I flip past too much information on scene and setting. From my perspective, long-winded, flowery descriptions belong in poetry, not prose. 🙂

    • jannatwrites November 22, 2010 / 7:46 PM

      Thanks Nancy! I’m glad I’m not the only one who ‘cheats’ by skipping the ‘fluff’ 😉

  3. Brown Eyed Mystic November 22, 2010 / 6:13 PM

    Brilliant advice, Janna.

    And yes, like you, it DOES excite me more when they’re covering something up 😉

    -BrownEyed

    • jannatwrites November 22, 2010 / 7:49 PM

      It sure is a letdown when you badger someone hiding something and the ‘secret’ wasn’t a big deal at all. (Not that I’ve done this before or anything…I’m just noting it hypothetically…) 🙂

      I’m glad you liked the list. I wish I could claim it as my own, but I’m simply passing learned information!

  4. Ollin November 22, 2010 / 7:01 PM

    Brilliant title! And those are very good suggestions, in fact every author should follow them if they want to be a good writer. I find that SUBTLETY is key, you need to imply information, don’t insult the reader’s intelligence, besides, readers want the liberty to interpret a work. That’s why they read novels, if they want things to be explained clearly and obviously they would go watch a movie. lol.

    By the way, I was wondering if you’d like to guest blog for me. Would you be interested? Let me know, you can reach me at my contact page.

    Thanks for the reminder! 🙂 I’m not kidding. It’s good to be reminded, I forget sometimes….

    • jannatwrites November 22, 2010 / 7:55 PM

      Good to hear you found the title catchy! There is a fine line between telling too much and showing too little (too obvious vs. too mysterious) and we just have to learn how to stick close to it.

      Guest blog…are you serious??? I’d love too, but I don’t know if I can live up to BrownEyed’s spectacular guest post 🙂 The chicken in me urges to pass, but I’m going to go with the (small) adventurous part of me and go contact you to set it up. Thanks!

  5. Artswebshow November 24, 2010 / 7:07 PM

    Well jan, i found these tips helpful.
    So naturally entertainment is good but feel free to post as many of the informative posts as you like.

    • jannatwrites November 25, 2010 / 8:25 PM

      Thanks! Good to know they helped. I will continue to mix it up and keep you guessing 🙂

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