Writing Advice: On Exposition


One of the things that I struggle with when writing is exposition. Exposition is the description of a scene, character, or situation that is sometimes necessary to explain what’s going on to your readers. It can be hard, though, to strike a balance between helpful exposition and what some people refer to as an info dump. An info dump happens when you supply your readers with a very large amount of information all at once. A good example of this might be when a detective takes several pages of a book to explain to someone (and the readers) how she discovered he was the murderer. The general consensus is that info dumps should be avoided. But then how should we handle exposition in our writing?

As I mentioned, exposition can be necessary to a story. I’ve read a few stories that I think could use some more exposition. Sometimes writers appear to be trying as hard as they can to avoid using exposition. These writers will hint at aspects of the world they’re creating and only suggest what might be going on behind the scenes with their characters. I think a healthy balance can be found between the info dump and the cagey, hinting descriptions.

In a recent post about 25 Ways to Write a Real Page-Turner of a Book, the mighty and powerful Chuck Wendig touched on the topic of exposition. Here’s what Chuck has to say about handling exposition. “Treat it like a dirty, grim necessity,” he says. “It’s like an old, gummy Band-Aid: you have to rip it off fast. This is combat landing time: get in, deliver exposition, and get the hell out again in as short a time as you can muster.”

This is a great mindset to have when writing exposition. It’s something that you have to do, yes, but you shouldn’t get bogged down by it and you shouldn’t let it rule your story. If you know that you have an issue with exposition, that you often spend too much time writing exposition, set a timer for yourself as you head into a scene that requires some description. Make it a quick timer — maybe 2 minutes — and when that timer goes off, you know you have to stop writing description. Then, go back over what you’ve written and prune where needed.

I hope that helps you! Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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