Thursday, April 5, 2012

A to Z Challenge: E is for Exposition




Welcome to Day 5 of the A to Z Challenge

Many bloggers have chosen a theme for the A to Z.  My pledge since becoming a blogger is to post about writing, so for this event, I will being posting about what I've learned about writing a novel.

________

E is for Exposition:  the act of expounding, setting forth, or explaining; writing or speech primarily intended to convey information or to explain; a detailed statement or explanation (Dictionary.com)

There’s a dirty word—or term rather—in fiction writing:  the dreaded info dump!  Why?  Mainly because it slows the action down.  So there are a few rules writers should follow to avoid them.


Rule #1:  Act first.  Explain later.  In other words, begin with a character in motion and drop in only as much info as necessary, in tiny little bits as you go.

Rule #2:  When you do explain, think of an iceberg.  Don’t tell everything.  Keep roughly 10% on the surface and 90% hidden.

Rule #3:  Set the information inside a confrontation.  Let it come out within a scene of conflict and use the character’s thoughts and words to do the work.

Yes, this means you need to resist the urge to explain.  Hard to do sometimes, I know, but it’s that old adage of show, don’t tell.  Exposition works if you remember to keep the tension high.  And when you do need to explain something, hold off as long as you possibly can and don’t explain what you’ve already shown.

I had no clue about these rules when I wrote my first draft and had to go back and pull out all those paragraphs of excessive information.  I added them back into a high-conflict scene, a confrontation loaded with dialogue.  It worked much better.                     

How do you deal with exposition and fight the urge to explain?

And thank you,  Alex J. Cavanaugh for posting about me today!     

40 comments:

Marta Szemik said...

Some good rules to follow. I agree they help the story. And with practice, it does become second nature:) Great E!

Kyra Lennon said...

Fab tips, thanks for sharing!

JeffO said...

Tough line to walk, between the necessary and gratuitous.

Susan Roebuck said...

So necessary. There's nothing so boring as long paragraphs of information (but they do appear in published books, don't they?) I generally skip those bits and I rarely find I can't understand the plot because of doing that.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I try and put it into dialogue.
Act now explain later - I like that!

teganwilson said...

I agree with your rules, I'm a fan of writers like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, who always let their characters speak for themselves and don't bore the reader to death with reams of information. I like to carry that into my own writing style as well.

Tegan Wilson

Huntress said...

I keep one phrase in front of me when I edit.

"Is this information necessary? Or am I talking to myself?"

Bish Denham said...

Great post, clearly and simply set out. I've cut pages of stuff and reinserted it as dialogue, both internal and external.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I think reading voraciously has really helped with understanding exposition. It's one of those things you can see in your own work if you've read enough of others. And if you have excellent beta readers :0)

Heather M. Gardner said...

Let's just say my book got a lot shorter when these things were pointed out to me.
Groan.
HMG

J.C. Martin said...

Great advice! I always struggle with how much information to convey. This is going on my StumbleUpon profile!

J.C. Martin
A to Z Blogger

Karen Lange said...

These are great guidelines. Thanks so much for expounding. :) Came over from Alex C.'s blog - glad I did! Looking forward to following and learning about your writing journey.

Have a great weekend!

Kela McClelland said...

I don't have the 'info dump' problem, I'm opposite. I always act first and then have to figure out a way to work in some explanation for the reader somewhere.

Great E post, looking forward to reading more of your posts. :)

Claire Hennessy said...

Great reminder, thanks. Over from Alex's blog - nice to meet you :)

Angela Orlowski-Peart said...

Nancy, I love your A to Z writing tips. Fabulous!

Chris Fries said...

Wonderful exposition on exposition, Nancy!

Juliana L. Brandt said...

I always think of the Star Wars movies. Before they explained everything, they were amazing, but when they came back with the prequels and explained-away, it took some of the magic from the experience.

The iceberg image is perfect.

Al Penwasser said...

Great post! I'm learning a lot.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good stuff here, Nancy. I love it when I find writing that includes the stuff of exposition craftily inserted in other stuff going on.

mooderino said...

I try to make the explanation as interesting and unexpected as possible.

Great post.

mood
Moody Writing

Jasmine Walt said...

To be honest I've never been afflicted by the urge to exposition in my writing. I like dropping hints here and there to keep my readers wondering-- it's my own little form of torture. I've always hated it when I have to stop and read chunks of explanation!

Ella said...

Great advice! I enjoyed your E~
Nice to meet you!

Liz said...

Neatly explained! It's hard too in poetry of course - I write about animals, try and give part of their life story, but to do it with charm, humour, fun, to make someone feel as though they are turning the animals over in their hand or stroking them and finding out about them instead of hitting someone over the head with a list of attributes is difficult!

Liz said...

Oh - hang on, this is me: blog = http://www.lizbrownleepoet.com
website = http://www.poetlizbrownlee.co.uk we

Tracy Jo said...

Hello Nancy! Coming over from Alex's house. :-) It is nice to meet you and I always love to learn. Great information!

Kittie Howard said...

Great post, Nancy, with great tips. I like, act first, explain later. I personally like a bit of exposition when read. , , not much, but some to break from the dialogue, however good it is.

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page said...

Perhaps the less is more rule applies here. Resisting the urge to explain is good advice.

Play off the Page

Fairview said...

Great tip. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom!

Empty Nest Insider said...

Thanks for the excellent advice, and everything Alex said is true! Julie

Maxine Aux-Arc said...

Hello! An unofficial A to Z Challenger loving the challenge and the awesome blogs I'm finding along the way, like this one.

As in life, I can't keep my mouth shut and do write far too much. Unlike life, there are do-overs and take-it-backs, also known as editing. It does get better with practice, especially if I'm not hustling for a daily word count and paying attention to my writing, but I still find myself having to go back and craft what what has tumbled through the keyboard.

This blog is an excellence balance for my "E" post for the day, which was on eBooks and ePublishing. I'll definitely add you as a link. So far, what I'm seeing are a lot of advantages for writers that are published through traditional channels, such as added features and the options to tweet and post to FB directly from the book, but I also wonder how long it will be before those features are available to the self-published...for a price, of course :-)

So glad I found this blog and anxious to read more of what you have to say.

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Nancy,

Thanks for sharing.... I can't wait to see what you've got figured out for Q and X :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great rules to follow!

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm following now, nice to meet you.

I try to do as you say, get the action down first then, go back and add what's needed during revisions.

Coming over from Alex's blog, where he has his own 'blogs of note' and you're featured. I'm also in the A to Z challenge.

DG Hudson - Rainforest Writing

Lisa L. Regan said...

Seriously, these posts should be rolled into one long, writing self-help book! Great stuff. Love the tips. I have a very hard time with this so what I usually do is in the first draft let all my exposition hang out. Then in later drafts I try to take the long passages and parse them out throughout the book to make the pacing better and build tension.

Eric W. Trant said...

This is a bit genre-specific. Some genres require the info-dump, such as sci-fi and fantasy. Sometimes you just have to stop and explain things.

So that's where the mentors come in. They explain via dialogue.

When I run into expositive scenes, I think to myself: How would I handle this if it were a movie!

Some movies have the voice-over narrative, but mostly they are forced to use dialogue and action to explain things.

Or, God help us all, they find a letter, and we pan to the letter while someone reads it...

- Eric

Chuck said...

That's a good rule for general blogging as well...sadly, I have to fight the temptation since at work I always have to explain things from every angle to see a glimmer of comprehension...maybe next time I'll just take action...like a grenade!!

Lindi said...

Hi Nancy,
Found you through Alex C.'s blog. I like your post--and you and I had the same idea with Dictionary.com for our posts--very cool. (If only I had pictures!)

Jackie said...

Awesome post! Thank you for sharing this helpful info!

Michael Pierce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Pierce said...

Thanks for the awesome tips! I find myself explaining too much and have to go back and cut, cut, cut. In the end it's so much better, but I have to continually pull myself back. Your three rules are rules to live by!