Writing Tip #7 Exposition

This is the seventh of 12 posts for Writers who are planning to self-publish using the great services now available to the amateur writer, such as Smashwords, Amazon KDP, CreateSpace etc.

These mistakes are straight from week1 of “Good Writing 101”. You might get away with one or two of them; maybe people won’t notice. But if you  consistently break these rules don’t give up your day job.

 7. Exposition

Exposition, my dictionary says, is “a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.” For fiction, that includes background, world building and backstory.

Let’s suppose you are writing a science fiction story about an alien invasion of the Earth. In order to tell the story properly, the reader will need to know why the aliens had to leave their own planet, the reason why they chose our planet to invade, and what steps they have already taken (before the story starts) to terraform the Earth to suit their biological needs. The reader will also need some details about how the Earth is now governed by a single power, Earth-gov, headed by an Earth President called Michaels.

All of this information must emerge in the most natural way possible, without interfering with the flow of the story. The golden rule here is to provide just enough information at each point so that the reader can follow the story, and no more than that.

Any attempt to interrupt the story in order to describe or explain this sort of material to the reader, will come across as authorial lecturing, and you run the risk of boring the pants off your reader.

The worst method of all is ‘feather dusting’, where two characters discuss something simply in order to impart information to the (eavesdropping) reader. Something like this:

“As you know, Bob, the aliens lost control of the climate on their own planet hundreds of years ago, and set out in their inter-galactic spacecraft to find a new home.”

“But what I want to know, Bill, is why they chose Earth.”

“I think it was our water that attracted them, Bob. That and the ease with which they could terraform the planet to suit their biological needs.”

“I read somewhere that they prefer an atmosphere with more nitrogen in it. I suppose that’s why I feel so lightheaded all the time.”

“You’re right, Bob. Hopefully President Michaels and his Earth-gov will do something about it soon.”

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