I was recently entrusted with a story, by a man I do not know, and asked for feedback.
That's some responsibility.
Thankfully (because I will always be honest, but I hate to upset people) it was basically a decent story, and I enjoyed reading it. The main thing I had to draw to his attention was that his exposition was lacking in subtlety.
I've been told that I happen to be quite good at working in details, giving a sense of place without writing pages of description, and I wanted to find a way to get him thinking about other ways of passing information to the reader.
I ended up suggesting a little exercise to him, which I thought could probably benefit a lot of writers - particularly those near the beginning of their writing adventure. So here it is, for anyone who feels they may need it.
An Exercise in ExpositionThis is written from a fantasy/sci-fi perspective, but should apply equally well to other forms of writing: in any context, you still have to get the setting and scenario across to readers without beating them over the head with it.
- Pick up a random SF/F book which you haven't read before (and not part of a series with which you're already familiar).
- Read the first ~10 pages, then shut the book.
- Jot down some notes. What do you now know about the world in which the book is set? Don't worry too much about being "right" - what matters is your impressions, so you can afford to do this quickly.
- Then go back, reread the same few pages, and look for the text which points to the features you've noted down. (Hint: most of the time, it won't be that the author has said "things are like THIS in this world.")
- If you do this a few times, with a number of different books, you can probably start to get a good idea of what works and what doesn't.
And if you're not sure whether you need to improve your exposition, well, feel free to send me something and I'll tell you straight up!