Writing Challenge #15: Exposition

Show don’t tell is an important storytelling rule.

But sometimes it’s useful to tell through exposition.

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.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1bhaB-BD

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Writing, Writing Challenge and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Writing Challenge #15: Exposition

  1. I think exposition is a valuable tool which can, like any tool, be misused.

    I sometimes do what I think of as a Jump (I’m sure there’s a more technical term). If it seems a scene is getting too “He said this, then she said that, then he did this, then she stood up, then he did something else” I jump forward to a different setting, filling in the stuff which happened in between with a few words or a paragraph. Every story has parts which are less exciting and less significant. I think it does the reader a favor to compress them when possible.

  2. Oooo good tip, I’ll try that. I want to see how much of a difference it makes. 🙂

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