Wednesday, 10 March 2010


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 Exposition

This 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.
If you do have a go at this, I'd love it if you come back and tell me something you've learnt. I'll probably do it myself at the weekend.

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!


Steve & Sarah Travel the Long Way Round said...

This sounds like a fun little exercise. I think I'll do it this weekend as a break from thesis writing... In the meantime, here's a bit of exposition - wonder what you think!

During the long summer days, Thor and Michael spent most of their time dodging thunderstorms. Each afternoon, just after the sun had passed its peak in the sky, black-streaked clouds would blossom over the tops of the peaks to the east of town. They hung there, swelling and roiling, before finally spilling over the craggy pass and streaking down towards town like a torpid avalanche. The storms were short but powerful enough to create flashfloods out of the dusty Montana riverbeds.
“You see anything?” Thor asked Michael as they studied the tall peaks from the hill in back of Thor’s house.
“Not yet,” Michael said. He readjusted the focus on the binoculars. “Wait, wait. There it is! Click it!”
Thor pushed the button on the digital timer his mom had loaned them. In a moment, the wisps of clouds grew visible to Thor as well. In Michael’s battered school notebook, Thor looked over the list of dates and times and made a new entry. June 14. Michael handed him back the binoculars and together they watched the thunderhead form.
“See how it’s all dark and misty on top?” Michael asked. “It looks like the top of a giant’s head, with massive shoulders and big hair.” Thor thought it looked more like his mom bent over a steaming pot of soup but didn’t say so. The binoculars were slick with sweat and Thor could see translucent heat waves rolling off the roofs of the buildings in town.
“It’s getting bigger!” Michael yelled. “Way bigger! Get ready to click it!...Now! Run!”
Thor clicked the button on the timer, grabbed the notebook and tore after Michael, who was already cutting a line through the dry weeds away from the encroaching storm. As the first raindrops fell on his arms, Thor leapt into the low branches of the tree and clambered into the tree house. They sat with their backs against the one dry wall and laughed as the thunder shook the walls. The storms were typically over quickly but this time the wind continued to screech on and on.
Michael and Thor pulled out their collection of tiny toy cars and drove them in procession through the rivulets of water that ran across the planks of the floor. Eventually, a green minivan pulled up beside the house and Michael collected his notebook and cars.
“See ya,” he said and hopped out of the treehouse. He held his backpack over his head and ran across the lawn to the van.
“See ya,” Thor said.
Thor tried playing with the cars some more but it was boring without Michael. He put his head back against the wall and the heavy pounding of the rain pulled him into sleep. When he woke, the rain had stopped but his feet had slid out from the dry corner and were wet. The sun was red and low on the horizon and the air smelled like grass.

Jula said...

Hi :)

Thanks for the tip! I used to write regularly, exercising my imagination until it got pretty strong, but in recent years I've fallen out of the habit. This will be a fun little project. :)

Dropping by from SITS <3

Writing Without Periods! said...

From one who has taught a lot of creative writing...this is an excellent assignment. I'm going to try it.

Jo said...

Hi, doll! Just stopping by to thank you for coming and visiting me on my SITS day -- so deeply appreciated.

Hope all is well in your end of the universe.

Peace and serenity,
'The End Of The Rainbow: Life After Bankruptcy'
*This week is 'MS Awareness Week' -- feel free to stop by to see how MS affects people worldwide and what you can do. ::HUGS::

Sam said...

Well-stated, Rachel C. I appreciate it!

Stephanie V said...

I will try that. Exposition is the hardest for me to write. My training is all in'll be a good exercise.

Tabor said...

Good idea for an exercise and tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and maybe I will try it.

Jenny Woolf said...

Good idea. Never thought of this....

Jeanne said...

That's a great exercise, and it wouldn't have to be limited to sci-fi/fantasy. Whatever your genre, you still need to create the setting. (Although it is a lot more pronounced in SF/F....

RainSplats said...

Nice tip - thanks for sharing.

MsBabyPlan said...

Hello Rachel, I am looking forward for the weekend but also not because that will mean week 6 at uni. is coming near... Oh, my, my, I have to start my second essay.

I will try your technique once I am finished with my essays and presentations.

Have a great day. Stop by. xxxMsBabyPlan

Toni said...

I'm sure I'll find many books on my travels that I can use this little exercise on - thanks for the tip Rachel!

Anonymous said...

Good post! I enjoyed reading it! I will surely try your technique !

Dropping by from SITS. x

Crystal said...

Very interesting tip. :)

Stopping from SITS.

Rebecca D said...

Nice to meet you! I'm here from Friday Follow... I'm your newest follower!

beadsandmorebylois said...

Hi happy Friday Follow! I'm a new follower :) Hope you have a great weekend. Lois x

Lookie Lou said...

Interesting post. Sounds like something I will have to try! Stopping by from Follow Friday and Sits! Followed you! Will you follow back?

chubskulit said...

Stopping by and following from Friday Follow, hope you can drop by. Have a happy weekend!

Fly Girl said...

That's an interesting exercise. In my journalism classes, I usually have my students recreate a vivid childhood memory to show readers a sense of place. Your exercise sounds like it would work for any kind of writing.

Lisa Anne said...

I know this is off topic, however I love love love your pink coat that you are wearing In your about me. I can't wait to read your posts.

Aidan Donnelley Rowley said...

What in interesting exercise. I must try it sometime. I often wonder about these things though. Which parts of writing do you think can be taught? Which parts can't really be taught? Some argue that good dialogue cannot be taught. Some argue that the proper use of metaphor can't be taught. I think this line of questioning is really interesting and I'd be interested to know what you think.

Chef E said...

Great one, my son and I were on the phone last night discussing writing exercises for his classes, I will pass this on.

It is hard to hear criticism, but we need it to grow, and learn! buuuuuut, no critiquing the product 'ho', lol!

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