The Slippery Slope of Exposition

Road to Denali - Mountains - Alaska

Stories are a trip. And like all good trips, it’s about the journey, not necessarily about the destination. As writers, it’s our job to make the journey as engaging and entertaining as possible. One of our difficulties though, can be the start of the trip, the Exposition.

We need to avoid too much Exposition whenever and wherever possible. Too much Exposition bogs down the story, and too often it results in the dreaded “telling” and not “showing”. Now, Exposition is a necessary evil. We need to tread through this dull land in order to see the more picturesque vistas, Rising Action and Climax.

These days, I’m working on analyzing short stories with my students, and one of the first approaches to this unit involves a discussion on Plot. While all discussions of Plot begin with the fact that all stories need Conflict, the conversation makes it’s way to Exposition pretty quickly. With the thirsty middle school minds before me, I tell them that the Exposition is where an author presents the reader with the major characters, the setting, and the basic situation of the story. The Exposition gives way to an Inciting Incident, a moment that largely introduces the Conflict and gets the story moving up the mountain toward Rising Action’s panorama.

I try to tell them though, that it’s better for an author to get to the Conflict ASAP, and to leave the Exposition behind as quickly as they can. Here are five ways to escape the mire of too much Exposition.

  1. Leave the Backstory Behind ~ As writer’s, we need to start the journey of our story in the right place, and often times, it’s as those elements that will be important to the Plot come to a head.
  2. Don’t Blind the Passenger ~ We need to make sure that our Readers see the road clearly. Show them the story unfolding, don’t Tell them what’s happening. Introduce characters in scene. Have them do something. Use body language and vocal cues to develop that characterization.
  3. Introduce Characters Once They’re on the Road ~ Try not to bog down the reader with too many details of someone they’ve yet to see in action. Feel free to build tension with hints, but don’t go into full-on backstory mode. Reveal the character and the details as they become relevant.
  4. Avoid Starting the Trip with Flashback or Prologue ~ These are tricky pieces of baggage on the trip because they can be valuable, but unless put to good use, they end up just taking up trunk space. There’s not her royal highness’s matched luggage.
  5. Let the Point of View Character Drive ~ Remember, the POV character is why we’re in the car to begin with. If something is relevant to them at a given moment, then it’ll be on their mind, otherwise, the reader won’t need to hear it.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “The Slippery Slope of Exposition

  1. I am fairly new to creative writing and fiction and I learn something new about it everyday. I am glad to say that there is a lot of good information that I can take away from this post as well. Very helpful.


    • Thanks for reading! There’s plenty of good info out there, but the best thing to do is write, write, write. Try different things. Get some feedback. Experience is the best teacher. Good luck.


  2. I think you’re an awesome teacher! To the point, logical, and very we’ll said. As a reader, I agree with all of your points. Thank you Mr. Fernandez : )


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