Exposition

Hi, my name is Genre Salmon and I love exposition.

I always feel like I should be signing up for some kind of twelve-step program called Wafflers Anonymous or Twelve Steps To Brusque Economy Of Language, but it’s true. I admit it. I love exposition. I love old-fashioned books that start with two or three pages of it.  I love reading page after page of description and inner monologue. Assuming, of course, that it’s written well – dull exposition is awful. But hand in hand with my passion for lyrical, evocative prose does come an enthusiasm for that prose being quite descriptive. And lengthy.

It may be because the first story I remember being read to me – and one of my two absolutely earliest memories – is of my dad reading me The Hobbit when I was three, to take my mind off a burn. He started reading the Hobbit aloud when I was, I think, four. So I imprinted early on pretty prose and extensive waffling on. (And I liked Tom Bombadil. Shut up. Tom Bombadil is fun if you’re little.)

And all, all, all the writing books and blogs and so forth seem to be categorically against exposition. Show, don’t tell. Never infodump. Don’t give away too much in the first chapter. And I know it’s good advice, I really do, but it’s so not what I do. Nope. Not at all. At least not in my first draft.

In my first draft, I info-dump like crazy in the first couple of chapters. I write down everything I think of that I want to put in, at least in part because as I have previously mentioned, my memory is such utter crap that I can completely forget entire chunks of backstory overnight. I just shove it all in there. Then, if I get to a spot later on where this piece of information would fit, I shove it in there as well. I once found the same minor revelation in three different places in the same text, which was actually kind of fun because I’d shown the different results of early, middling and late reveals and I could see which one I liked best.  Then when I’m done, and I’ve worked in little niblets of information throughout the narrative and figured out what who should know when, then I go back and cut most of the info-dumping from the first chapters.

If you have trouble pacing yourself early on, it’s an approach I recommend. You’ve got all the bits you wanted to put in in one place, including all the stuff you don’t need to leave in at all because the reader doesn’t actually need to know it but you-the-writer do, and when you’ve got more of the basic structure down you can nip back and start picking out choice tidbits of exposition and seeding it through the story a tiny bit at a time without forgetting anything.

I understand other people often get the same effect via ‘planning’. Or ‘outlining’. I’ve never bothered doing an outline more detailed than a list of bullet points to keep the plot vaguely on track, but it’s presumably also a useful way of keeping track of what’s going on and what your back-story is. (Anyone?)

Anyway. I exposit and info-dump and have my characters talk way too damn much all the time – in the first draft, anyway. Because you can always cut, but a character nuance forgotten can be gone forever.