The Story Comes First: Everything Else Is A Slow Second

The first, most important part of handling exposition is realizing that it’s going to need handling. Once you’re aware of that, you won’t be as easily tempted to break off in the middle of an opening or crisis to treat the reader to a completely unnecessary lecture on how the protagonist was frightened by a big dog in childhood or on the history of the building where the murder happened to take place.

Second, readers are only interested in explanation after their curiosity has been aroused by something in need of explaining. In the beginning of a story, in particular, drop the people out of the airplane and then say how they got there in the first place. Introduce your character, let him act and show himself and engage the reader’s sympathies and curiosity. Then tell his background, if you need to.

In the middle of a story, exposition can serve as preparation for something that won’t happen until later. But in its immediate context, it should seem called for by what’s happened just before that point in the story. Otherwise, the exposition will just seem like a digression with no present relevance, or even like heavy-handed foreshadowing: nudging the reader and hinting obviously about what’s coming, which none of the characters know-only the author. That’s one form of authorial intrusion and something to be avoided. . . . Don’t join the “Little did he/she know” school of writers. Make your hints fit in, inconspicuously, so they’ll stay hints, not offensive authorial nudges.

Don’t assume your responsibility as a writer automatically includes detailing every trauma, illness, or relationship a character had since birth. Neither does it require you to spell out every detail of sociology of the characters’ social milieu or the history of the setting. Only important things, important to understand this story, right now, should be explained.

Important things. Not everything!

Be tough with exposition. Make each piece justify its inclusion–at all, and at that particular point of the story. It shouldn’t be any longer than it has to be to do its essential work. Then get back to the plot again, as soon as possible.


This article was taken from the course Essentials of Romance Writing. Click here to register for the course now!

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