You know, as hard as I’ve tried to get a good understanding of exposition I don’t really have a clue. I’ve begun to think of it as anything that isn’t dialog, action or description. Is that correct?—Jeffrey Russell
Pretty much, Jeffrey. In a nutshell.
People tend to get confused about exposition because of its relationship to expository writing. Expository writing is explanatory. Nonfiction. Without characters.
They also get confused about complex and much-bandied terms like exposition because of the plethora of ‘experts’ floating around the Internet these days contradicting each other.
That’s why I rely on my fundamental authority, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which defines exposition as that which “explains.” Because it does. It explains things you can’t perceive from being in the fictional scene. It exposes them.
Now, does that make exposition—which is neither dialog nor description nor action—the same thing as narrative? Well, no, it doesn’t. The OED defines narrative as a “series of events,” which of course can easily be scenes.
Pretty much anything but dialog is narrative. That’s the narrator telling the story. Dialog is the characters telling their story, which is why it’s set into quotation marks or italics to distinguish it from the narrator’s version of things. (Although you could build a case for dialog being the narrator narrating what they heard the characters say. . .)
But the narrator narrates. And, when they feel the moment is ripe, the narrator also sometimes interferes.
“Guys, guys,” the narrator says. “You need to understand what’s below the surface, here.” And then they expose it: they tell you what’s below the surface of the scene they’ve been narrating, what’s below the dialog, action, and description, what’s beyond tactile experience.
And that telling, Jeffrey, is an aspect of narrative called exposition.