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Part 6: Narrative Type—Exposition

Why Show, Don't Tell Advice Might Be Holding You Back

Part 6: Exposition, Why Show, Don't Tell Advice Might Be Holding You Back Series on The Writer's Cabin

Level 3: The Walls of Show, Don't Tell—Narrative Types


I chose an image of a baby for this part.


Because exposition is much like someone you don't know going on at length about their baby that you have never seen. I know that mom. Hell, I think I am that mom. I get it. My kids are the cutest and best people ever created.

Oh! You will never believe what the baby did the other day.....

No. It's ok. I could feel you cringe in my soul.

You get it.

And your readers get that exact same sinking feeling from your exposition.

Now. When I talk about exposition, I mean the technical definition of exposition:

The comprehensive description or explanation of an idea or theory.

We are going to separate exposition here from description and dramatic action.

I want you to keep this in mind because when some people talk about exposition, they mean narrative—or writing that simply isn't dialogue. But that is not right, and we are going to get more specific here.

Here is an example of exposition in fiction:

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy....."

Yes. That was the opening of Star Wars Episode IV. (Take note of the serious narrative summary going on there.)

The advice in this part is very straightforward.

Exposition is needed sometimes. I won't even say needed, but it is often stylistically brilliant. Though never in huge chunks that go on for pages. You are writing a story (if you're not, you are in the wrong place, my friend), and any pertinent information should be told through the framework of that story.

So how can we keep our readers from going the way of Barney here?