Show don’t tell is an important storytelling rule.
Exposition a great way to get a few years to pass, for instance, or to set up a scene in a world that is unfamiliar to readers (as in historical fiction or sci-fi).
I’m finding myself experimenting with this kind of writing in my epic historical novel. There’s so much plot that if I tell it all in scene, I’ll have a 1,000-page monstrosity. My previous two novels were first person and scene oriented, and now I’m using a third-person omniscient narrator. It’s fun and scary to decide what to put in, what to take out, what can be condensed or paraphrased and what really needs to be a scene.
Today’s challenge is for those of you who are nervous about exposition. Pick a short scene, or part of a scene, from your work in progress. Now turn it into exposition. You can have a character narrate the events or do it as The Author. Don’t overthink or stop to edit. Just turn that scene into sentences about what is happening on the page. It can even be a simple summary–“this happened, and then this, and then this.”
Study your finished narration. How does this scene change the story or raise the stakes? What’s important? What did you leave out entirely? Are there any gems that you can add into the novel to make it richer?
Now compare your summary with the scene as written. How are the two treatments the same? How are they different? Is your emphasis on the right moments? Is there anything you can edit out? Hopefully this exercise will help you pare down unnecessary language and make sure the scene is doing the job you need it to do.