Ah, exposition, and his old friend the info-dump. So easy to hate, not always so easy to get around.
Lucky for you, we’ve found some handy hints on how you can go about describing the world your characters inhabit in a nuanced and subtle way.
Exposition is when the author tells the reader something they need to understand and is obvious about it. So a pair of characters natter about a subject they don’t need to talk about. ‘I have to go and clean the neutron drive, Susan. As you know, we’re on a big spaceship and have been for many months.’ Unless the line is to show an ironic character quirk, this is the author shoving his face between the characters.
Opposite of TMI
But if you give the reader too little context, they don’t know where they are or what anything means to the characters. Yours truly, Baffled.
Let me explain
The only sin of exposition is that it is unnatural. So you find ways to slip this material in without breaking the fourth wall.
If the world is new to the character, like Harry Potter’s entrance to Hogwarts, your task is simple. Get the reader curious, then show them all the mad stuff. But if the world isn’t new to the character, you have to be more subtle.
At any time in a story, we might have to convey lumps of information that the characters know but the readers don’t – for instance, what spelunking is, how a horseshoe is made. Explaining a world is no different.
Exposition is simply when you do it badly.
Thanks to Roz Morris at Nail Your Novel for the great advice.
Click through to read her excellent example of how to write the information and world-building so well that the reader doesn’t even notice it’s there, so well that it seamlessly becomes part of the narrative.
And thanks to the Sydney Writers Centre, who tweeted this yesterday.