How to Write Exposition in Fiction
Exposition sets up the main plot of your story. It can also provide character background. When used effectively, exposition broadens your story and brings depth to your characters. However, sometimes exposition can feel tacked on or distracting. Beginning writers will often spend pages writing exposition before they get to the meat of their story. Readers get bored easily if they think all they’re going to read is exposition. Here are some tips to write exposition effectively in your fiction and keep your readers interested.
Set up the plot or characters of your story quickly -- time, setting, characters, relationships, etc. -- then move on.
Blend the exposition into the action of your story. For instance, include information about your character while they are committing an act: “Jerry was only eighteen, but he had already committed four bank robberies before the heist at the Western, which Tyrone had promised was going to be the biggest hold-up this town had seen in years.” Already we know how old Jerry is, what he’s done in the past, the type of people he hangs out with and what he is about to commit in the present. We also have a hint of the town where he lives -- “the biggest hold-up this town had seen in years.” Set the story and its background up in as little exposition as possible.
Use exposition through dialogue. This is tricky because dialogue ends up sounding clunky and unrealistic when it serves no purpose except to provide exposition. But there are ways of moving around that problem. For instance, one character might be providing information that the other character wouldn’t know. Your character might be on a first date, might be interviewing a witness for a criminal investigation or might be on an interview for a new job. Situations like these offer you the opportunity to write exposition into your story.
Set up questions in your story. For instance, let’s say you introduce your character stuffing a bloody knife into a zip-top bag. This will engage your reader and have her wanting to know why the character has a bloody knife and why he is stuffing it into a zip-top bag. This offers you the perfect opportunity to use exposition to answer these questions. Perhaps the character is a crime scene investigator and he has been doing this work for years now. Your reader will not only want to know that, but will welcome the expository information.
Include expository information only if it is necessary to tell your story. Your readers don’t have to know about your character’s first trip to the dentist unless it is pertinent to your story. Perhaps it will explain why your character hates seeing his dentist. If not, then cut out any and all information that only bogs down the pacing of your story.
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