Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Exposition Blues


Exposition: a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.

Try not to laugh. When I first joined my critique group, I was told I'd written too much exposition. I nodded, as if I knew what that meant, then went home and looked it up in the dictionary. So much for being a woman of words!

Now that I know what it means (ahem), I work hard to avoid information dumps. In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell outlines these rules to avoid exposition:
  1. Act first, explain later. Begin with a character in motion. Readers won't demand to know everything up front. You can drop in information as necessary.
  2. When you explain, do the iceberg. Don't tell us everything about the character's past history or current situation. Give us the 10% above the surface that is necessary to understand what's going on. Keep the other 90% a mystery.
  3. Set information inside confrontation. Using the character's thoughts or words, you can drip, drip, drip crucial information for the reader.
When reading novels, I'm fine with not knowing all the reasons why something is happening. I store clues in my brain, knowing their purpose will be revealed later. Once the puzzle is pieced together, it's such a satisfying feeling.

Do you ever experience the Exposition Blues? If so, what's your cure?

44 comments:

  1. Ah the bane of a writer's existence, isn't it? You're so funny though! We all had to learn what that meant at some point, right? Oooh (Squirrel) I like your writing tip of the day...

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  2. Great tips - and oh YES! Exposition blues, yes. Ergh. I struggle with too much and then I'm so conscious of it, I don't tell ENOUGH!

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  3. That's great advice to set the information inside confrontation. I prefer not knowing exactly what's going on, it makes it that much more exciting when I've got questions in my head.

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  4. I like the ice berg idea. Awesome visual image. That should work! More great writer tips Julie, thanks!

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  5. I've been guilty of this many times. A teacher of mine used to refer to exposition as "information dump" which helped me visualize and recognize it in my and other's work.

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  6. these are great tips, Julie! Glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles to avoid this~ :o) <3

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  7. Plot & Structure is great and Bell always has terrific advice!

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  8. Great tips. Love the iceberg. Hints and teases are definitely the way to go.

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  9. I'm a huge fan of the "leave little clues and explain later" approach ... problem is, my beta readers often have no faith in me. They'll be like, you haven't explained the back story. Are you going to do that??? And it's chapter 2. Patience, grasshoppers!

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  10. Good stuff! Yes, I'm bad at wanting to dump my info all in one place. Working on NOT doing it. I think partly it's the fear that I'll forget something crucial. LOL It certainly IS more work to dribble the info along, but much more satisfying for the reader--in many different ways.

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  11. I like it when a novel unfolds and only leaves clues. I don't like info dumps.

    I wish I wrote too much exposition. I under-write actually. I have to ADD stuff. LOL.

    Love James Scott Bell and the PLOT & STRUCTURE book. It's loaded with gems of information.

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  12. I've not only had exposition blahs, I've had the dread exposition night sweats! Just TRY reading one of my first drafts. Arrrg!

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  13. Over exposistion is definitely not a problem for me! I'm currently working at the opposite end of the spectrum. Maybe we'll meet in the middle and everyone will be happy?

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  14. I struggle with when and how much to say a person looks like, ya know. Like page 2 or 5 or what??

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  15. Usually my first drafts have a lot of exposition because I'm explaining the story to myself (pantser that I am!). It's satisfying to strip all that away later, but also tough. Sometimes I worry I remove too much and leave people confused. My betas have their work cut out for them. :)

    Amy

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  16. Unfortunately I do. I love how you compared it to an iceberg, that's a great visual that will stick with me. Reveal little and hide more. It would add a lot to the mystery and intrigue. I love it!

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  17. This is so true and such a great post. I've learned the hard way to learn about my characters first and then write the exposition. I also have WAY too much of that in my novel. This is a great post to look back on when I'm doing some edits!

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  18. A good reminder, Julie - thank you - and a great punchy way of putting it.

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  19. This is excellent advice. Subtlety and mystery are key to reader engagement. Most useful advice.

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  20. metaphorically speaking, aren't we always seeking a balance in all we do? Writing included! But that being said, it's a tricky thing to accomplish at time as it is also a point of view of others...what is too little to one, is too much to another and vice versa...listen to your heart!

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  21. Here's the thing with exposition, if we leak it slowly and artfully rather than dump it all at once, it actually becomes part of the story-telling process and ceases being exposition.

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  22. I kind of suffer from the opposite. I think everyone should just know what I meant. LOL!

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  23. Great, much needed advice. Thanks for the post! I'm an info dumper and delve into waaay to many details. Christy

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  24. I never knew the term, but so many authors (even published ones) are guilty of it. Robert Ludlum anyone?

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  25. Julie, you have such a great way of putting huge ideas into delicious bite size pieces. Thank you. Sometimes I feel exposition is like the rain cloud always hanging over Eeyore. I'm afraid of a downpour. I like to be a breadcrumb dropper instead.

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  26. I have a tendency to plunge into the Exposition Blues, Julie. Its something I am consciously trying to avoid. So the tips are extremely important to me. Thanks for this post.

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  27. Finding the right balance between showing and telling is hard. And harder yet, is telling so expertly that you get away with it!

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  28. This is something I had to learn too. Easy to do.

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  29. I think I have the opposite problem some times--I'm on such a mission to keep exposition at a minimum, I do give the reader enough to round out the characters and storyline. It's all a balance.

    (let me know if you figure out the balance formula, hey?) lol

    Angela @ the Bookshelf Muse

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  30. These are fantastic tips! James Scott Bell has the best writing tips. His Revision & Self-Editing book is one of my favorites! I'll have to get Plot & Structure.

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  31. Wait...got to look up exposition...☺. I like to do flashbacks that interject pieces of the background story. I struggle sometimes where to put it sometimes.

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  32. There's such a fine line between not enough info and too much! I know I have a problem with both sides :) I tend to go in cycles - I'll give way too much info, and then not enough - and it only gets harder to tell which is appropriate the more you revise a piece. Thank god for crit partners or I'd be totally up a creek!

    Personally I'd much rather have too little information than too much - the mystery keeps me reading :)

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  33. Getting into too much description can slow down the story & bore the reader. The 10% iceberg theory is a great rule to remember.

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  34. I've been guilty of just about everything you can be guilty of in writing! Great tips!

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  35. I have to be careful. At times I explain too much when I should spread the exposition at a better pace.

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  36. Wow, those are really effective tips! I'm in the middle of revisions right now, and my exposition is getting the chop right, left and centre. Alas, witty passages and plentiful jokes, you are not enough to hide the fact that I'm info dumping!

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  37. When in doubt - chop it out! I think I'm on the exact same learning curve you are LOL!

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  38. Great advice here! I love the iceberg analogy; the idea that 90% is in mystery leaves so much possibility. :)

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  39. Oh had some pretty tough English lit teachers that drummed certain rules into my head early on. Some of which I've had to unlearn. Others of which I've found useful. Exposition is one of those less is more rules. And later rather than sooner.

    Bell's books on writing are excellent.

    I hope you have a delightful weekend, Julie. :)
    Love,
    Lola

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  40. Hahaha! I do that grin and nod (then look it up in secret) thing a lot. Thank God for Google, is all I have to say.

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