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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Exposition is NOT a Writer’s Best Friend!

In today’s competitive book market, a writer can’t afford to spend time writing long blocks of prose. With books competing with the fast pace of movies, television and the internet, the more time a writer takes to paint little details in a  picture with words is time that a customer will be lost.

In nineteenth and early twentieth century a writer could get away with long paragraphs filled with blocks of colorful prose. A writer could spend entire paragraphs describing furniture, the lushness of the green grass on the lawn or the exquisite tailoring of the embroidery on a gentleman’s waistcoat and his tailored English suit.

They could take several chapters to introduce a series of ancillary characters before getting to the main characters and their storylines. All people had been books. There was no Television, no movies, no internet or cell phone games and apps vying for the attention of the reader.

But write like that today in the face of all that competition and the reader puts down the book. No one wants to spend a hundred to two hundred pages waiting for a writer to set up the story. There are just too many things to do.

Today, a writer has fifteen pages to establish their story and all the characters. Twenty at the most.

A writer today has to understand that there isn’t much time for exposition. Every second is precious and a few lost in a long rambling paragraph can mean the difference between a sale of a book or a reader picking up another authors’ title.

I know many writers want to tell a character’s backstory to get the reader involved in the story. But there’s a time and a place for it. At the beginning of a story a reader wants to have three questions answered:

Who is the main character?
What do they want?
Why should we care?

Once the writer answers those three questions, they’ll have established enough of a plotline to get the readers’ interest and compel them to read more. Then the writer can fill in the details as they move the story forward.

Too much exposition keeps the reader from having an enjoyable experience with a story. If a writer adds too many details, it prevents the reader from using their imagination and making up pictures in their heads of what’s going on between the lines of the pages.

It also prevents the reader from making their own observations regarding the actions of the characters. When a reader is immersed in a story they don’t want everything explained to them down to the last letter. They want to come to their own conclusions about characters and the action they see transpiring in front of them. Leave something to their imaginations!

Part of good storytelling is writing just enough. A writer has to have enough confidence in their characters to let them move the story forward.

Always remember less is more. Less details let a story have more of an impact on the reader. 

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