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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?