Exposition from the Other Side

Approaching your story as the author, one of the most difficult things to figure out is what your story will look like from the outside—from a reader who has no knowledge of your world. No matter how objective you attempt to be in judging your own work, the fact is that you can never un­-know all of the facts about your world and story.

And so it can be really difficult to figure out what exposition is needed, and how to deliver it, and where.

For me, a lot of times when I reach the “infodump” scene, whether in writing or revision, I cringe. It just seems so dull, so obnoxious, and so ridiculous. Part of that could absolutely be true, but I was thinking about books I’ve read and I realized something—I don’t think exposition is ever as bad from the reader’s point of view.

I mean, obviously you can be incredibly inelegant about delivering that information, so bad infodumping can be a major problem, especially in fantasy and sci-fi. But for the most part, readers want to know. They open the book and they don’t know this world, they don’t know the rules or the details, and as much as you can slip things in nonchalantly in the narration, a lot of readers just want it told straight. Not all at once, not without some panache, but they do want to know. They need that exposition.

So next time you worry about slowing the story down to give out some information that might seem a bit boring, remember that the reader may be eagerly waiting to figure things out. To them, it might not be dull or slow at all (as long as it doesn’t go on too long, or give too much impertinent information). It’s hard to figure out exactly where that line is, and that’s where beta readers are vital, but it might be a little bit comforting to see exposition from the other side.

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About J. Sevick

Just write.
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