Exposition, what it is and how to use it


Nothing will slow down plot faster than an information dump. This is where the author merely tells the reader something he thinks the reader needs to know before moving on with the plot. Exposition is the tendon that keeps the muscle attached to the bone. It links the scenes to the plot skeleton and keeps your story from becoming disjointed.

Often, exposition is information the writer thinks the reader needs to know. The reader only needs to know who’s who and what’s what so he can experience the same thing as the protagonist. He needs to know what the protagonist knows if it’s relevant to the immediate situation. Only those bits of information that is truly necessary. Spread out the essential information over the scene, bringing it where it would naturally show up in the chain of events.

Exposition by nature is more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ and should be used strategically to direct attention and help build tension. The writer must decide which moments to condense into a summary and which ones to dramatize. Condense small passages of less important or relevant events to ensure your prose keeps the drama and action where it belongs.Try to condense information in a way that gives a feeling of trouble down the road by adding up elements that give concern.

Filtering description

Write the description as you have it in your mind, then take time to let it simmer and process. Filter it through the perspective of your character to end up with a condensed version which still provides a taste and an insight.

Rule 1: Act first, explain later.

Begin with a character in motion. Readers will follow a character who is doing something, and won’t demand to know everything about the character up front. You then drop in information as necessary, in little bits as you go along.

Rule 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 percent above the surface that is necessary to understand what’s going on, and leave 90 percent hidden and mysterious below the surface. Later in the story, you can reveal more of that information. Until the right time, however, withhold it.

Rule 3: Set information inside confrontation.

Often, the best way to let information come out is within a scene of intense conflict. Using the characters’ thoughts or words, you can have crucial information ripped out and thrown in front of the reader.

Rule 4: Progression

The least important fact come early. The next most important comes after. The critical facts come last, especially the secrets.