Exposition, & Why Not All Writing Advice Is Good

By now, I’ve realized that writing advice is mutable. Different tips will go in and out of vogue depending on what new discourse is taking place. When I first began writing years ago, everyone was going about how you shouldn’t put exposition in your narration because that bores the audience. Nowadays I see advice that says you shouldn’t put exposition in your dialogue because it’s unrealistic for characters to explain a world they already know.

And when taken to heart, combining these pieces of writing advice creates an interesting conundrum…

Where do you put exposition, if not those places? Where else can it go?

I’ll tell you a secret; exposition goes wherever the story needs it, and the writers who tell you it simply mustn’t go in a particular place (because reasons) are full of hot air.

Exposition done through dialogue or narration isn’t in and of itself a problem. Both “never do this” suggestions are trying to propose solutions to a different problem that they don’t elaborate on or understand, and that problem is awkward exposition. As in, exposition that sounds like it’s copy-pasted from a wiki page rather than being a natural part of the story.

Here’s a second secret; there’s no quick hack to un-awkwardize your exposition.

Fixing awkward exposition is mostly about paying attention to story flow. It’s something you have to work and rework again and again to develop a feel for, and you get better at figuring it out with time.

Sometimes, that means you have to take a solid chunk of exposition, divide it up into little pieces, and scatter it around the narrative.

Sometimes, all you need to do is reword something so that it feels more plausible that your character decided to talk or think about it in the moment.

Sometimes, you just have to wince and delete that exposition outright.

The beauty of it is that you have so many ways to address these problems. Experiment! Have fun! And least of all, don’t get bogged down by arbitrary “never do this” writing advice. Evaluate your options and choose what is right for your own writing.

And that’s it for writing advice about writing advice today. If you find my advice helpful, then you can support my journey as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day!

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