Yesterday we wrapped up our workshop from last week and did a little brainstorming with the writers. Afterward we talked about the four basic types of writing: expository, descriptive, narrative, and persuasive writing. The first three types are crucial elements of fiction writing, and exposition was a frequent topic in this workshop—some of our stories could have benefited from a little more of it, others from a little less or some fine-tuning of what was there.
It’s not always easy to tell when you need more exposition to fuel your story and when your exposition is bogging everything down. There are no clear rules for these things, and tastes differ. Some writers will say it’s all crucial information but may have to learn to parcel it out so as not to slow the narrative to a crawl. Others prefer a more subtle touch but risk leaving readers confused and in the dark if they don’t give a little information at the right moments. It doesn’t matter if your reader is bored by too much information or frustrated with the lack of it—either way, you’ve lost them. So the quest for balance continues. Some tips from the group:
- Try highlighting your expository passages to get a sense of how much of your story is actually the story. It can be hard to make an objective decision about what’s important, but if you end up with a mostly <insert preferred highlighter color here> story, it may not be a very dynamic one. Every word needs to carry a lot of weight, especially in short fiction, so make sure every piece of information you stop to tell is important and enjoyable to read.
- Try moving all of your exposition to a separate document. You can add to it and draw from it as you write to ensure that you have all your facts straight, and keeping it all together will help you spot contradictions, unnecessary repetition, or gaps in your background information. (Sound familiar? We did this with our character studies in December. Not all of the information will be used, but now we have it all on one place to consult as we write and we know more about the characters we chose because we’ve made space to explore them alongside the writing instead of within it.) Meanwhile your plot is moving along at a steady clip, and you can make a more informed decision as to where it could use a pause to let a little information in.
- Lean on your outline. Knowing exactly when certain things need to happen can help you determine where each bit of background information will be most relevant and most effective. Maybe the reader needs to know Character B’s secret before Plot Point 4, but its discovery may be more effective if you let it out as a slow drip of hints or shady behavior rather than leaning on an introduction on Page 12 or a big reveal in Chapter 24; or those three paragraphs detailing the social structure of your space station may not be the most exciting way to begin your novel, but finding a way to weave the information into the narrative over the course of your first couple chapters will provide crucial context for the coup at the end of Act 1.
Expanding on our discussion, here are Chuck Wendig’s (caution, strong language ahead) 25 tips on writing effective exposition. Also check out Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind’s 6 ways to write effective exposition (with examples), which breaks down how some well-known authors tackled the handing out of information.
There will be no meeting next week on account of Spring Break. Before parting ways we each took a writing prompt from Poets & Writers in case we need a little inspiration to keep us writing over the break. We’ll meet again on March 18th.