Defining exposition

I’m confused as to what novelists mean by ‘exposition’; do they simply mean any narration that isn’t description, whether it imparts information or not? For example, would novelists consider paragraphs of the ‘narrator’ musing on the meaning of the story that we have just read, but adding nothing to the story, as exposition (judgement aside)?Danielle

Now, as you all know, Storycraft just hosted me yesterday on Twitter’s #storycraft chat on this very subject.

I’ll recap the definition of exposition for everyone here, which is embedded in that great old chestnut: “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Scenes are “showing,” everything you write to put your reader in the experience of your story along with your characters: description, action, dialog. You can write novels entirely in scenes. Many of the best ones were. Your reader wants to be living your story, seeing what your characters see, hearing what they hear, smelling, touching, even tasting what they taste. They want to come away from your book feeling like they own that experience. This is why you can read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter a dozen times in a row and still put it down feeling like you just lost 30 pounds to starvation and almost froze to death. She was a whiz with scenes.

Exposition is “telling,” everything you write to tell your reader something they couldn’t get from just standing there going through it along with your characters.

But what does that mean?

On #storycraft yesterday people brought up a lot of really excellent questions, trying to pin this down:

  • Is exposition generally in passive voice?
  • Is exposition linked to omniscient narrator?
  • Is exposition backstory?
  • Is exposition different from narrative observation (author intrusion)?
  • Is exposition different from an ‘info dump’?
  • Is exposition better in some POVs than others?
  • Is exposition the opposite of implying?
  • Is exposition necessary in short stories?
  • Is exposition ever NEEDED at all?

I was hustling to answer all the questions and also provide examples for those who learn better by example than explanation, and then Twitter cut me off (I “updated” too much, which I think means they got confused and couldn’t follow the thread of the discussion anymore, so they decided the party was over), so most of those questions are still hanging fire out there.

Therefore, rather than answer them all here, I’m going to go answer them THERE.

Shoop on over with us, people, to #storycraft: Exposition: A One-Woman Show. Today on Twitter.

(OH. Almost forgot again! The #storycraft folks will be hosting a flash fiction contest on exposition after this chat, over on their site at the Storycraft blog. Judging will be performed by moi. First prize: a freebie downloadable version of my new book The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual, 2010, La Favorita Press.)