ACADEMY: Lesson Sixteen: Exposition by Tophat Dragoneye

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  1. #1
    Moderator AceTrainer14's Avatar Forum Head
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    Default Lesson Sixteen: Exposition by Tophat Dragoneye

    A bit late in the month, my fault due to Awards. Hope y'all enjoy @Tophat Dragoneye's lesson :)


    Hello everybody and welcome to my academy lesson about exposition! My name is Tophat Dragoneye and I am the author of the Pokémon fanfic, Flames of a Revolutionary. But today, I shall be your teacher in this academy lesson. Without further ado, let’s begin!


    Infodumping and How Not to Write Exposition - Yahoo Voices -
    Writing First Person Exposition -- Advanced Fiction Writing Blog
    Handling the Exposition of a Story
    How to Write Narrative Expostion in Fiction by Mike Klaassen | Humanities 360

    What is exposition?
    Exposition, or explanatory text, is where the reader is explained about the story and the world and its content involved in it. The readers are given important background information such as about the setting, character’s back stories or events taking place before the main plot, just to give a few examples.

    The neat thing about exposition is that it can be conveyed through multiple ways in your story. It can be done through dialogues, through a character’s thoughts, through in-universe media such as a newspaper, television and so on. The possibilities are many. But making good exposition can be a work of art in itself if you don’t have much experience with it. I admit, even I have problems making good expositions at times. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t stop any of us to practice perfecting it.

    Before we move on, we need to learn a bit about different kinds of exposition. Namely, the exposition dump and the “As you know, Bob”- exposition.

    Exposition dump
    Exposition dump is, simply put, a large amount of information gathered in one place in a story with the purpose of explaining as much as possible to the readers and give them an idea of how things work in the story’s universe, usually at the beginning of the story.

    You may not realize it, but you have most likely already seen an exposition dump before. Let’s have a look at the beginning of the Star Wars movies as an example. We’re being given this exposition dump in the form of scrolling text in order for us to understand the story so far, what the characters have been doing and so on. That in itself is not an uncommon practice in both movies and books. Many novels, particularly fantasy and science fiction novels start off with a large exposition dump to explain the viewers the background and lore of the world in the story, as they usually have a large amount of information the readers need to learn.

    That itself can be a double edged sword, however. If you write too much exposition dump, you risk losing you readers before the story really begins. So be careful if you plan writing an exposition dump.

    “As you know, Bob”
    “As you know, Bob” is one of the more infamous kinds of exposition, and one that is considered both poor and lazy among many writers. If you have ever read a character explaining about very basic facts in their universe to another character, facts that pretty much everyone knows about in the universe, you have seen a classic example of “as you know, Bob”. The only reason this happens is to let the readers learn about the elements of the world the story takes place in, but it doesn’t push the story forward or develop the characters as a consequence. What’s more, it makes little sense in the story to explain something practically everyone knows. As such, I recommend that you avoid it completely.

    How to make good exposition
    So how is it done then? For starters, a general rule among good writers is to make sure that the exposition doesn’t slow down the story. I don’t remember the name of the book, but I once read a book about World War II in Denmark and a small resistance-group against the Nazi-soldiers. At one point in the novel, there were two pages that had nothing but exposition about a field of grass and flowers, down to nearly every bit of details of every blade of grass and petals. Needless to say, it slowed down the story considerably and ruined the flow.

    Despite that, you shouldn’t be afraid to create exposition when it is necessary. It CAN happen when you need to explain something critical in the middle of a story. Let me give an example from the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins:

    Fear shoots through me, but I have enough sense to keep still. After all, I don’t know what kind of wasp lives there. It could be the ordinary leave-us-alone-and-we’ll-leave-you-alone type. But these are the Hunger Games, and ordinary isn’t the norm. More likely they will be one of the Capitol’s muttations, tracker jackers. Like the jabberjays, these killer wasps were spawned in a lab and strategically placed, like land mines, around the districts during the war. Larger than regular wasps, they have a distinctive solid gold body and a sting that raises a lump the size of a plum on contact. Most people can’t tolerate more than a few stings. Some die at once. If you live, the hallucinations brought on by the venom have actually driven people to madness. And there’s another thing, these wasps will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest and attempt to kill them. That’s where the tracker part of the name comes from.
    After the war, the Capitol destroyed all the nests surrounding their city, but the ones near the districts were left untouched. Another reminder of our weakness, I suppose, just like the Hunger Games. Another reason to keep inside the fence of District 12. When Gale and I come across a tracker jacker nest, we immediately head in the opposite direction.
    As you can see here, the character briefly goes out of the story to explain how dangerous the tracker jackers can be to the readers, before returning back to it. As I said, it is brief, so it doesn’t disturb the flow considerably and it also tells just enough to us what we need to know.

    Secondly, the exposition needs to fit into the story currently being told. The example above applies here as well. The main character has gotten into a situation where she encounters a nest of tracker jackers and since it’s the first time we hear about them, the exposition above fits the situation. Besides, you can’t really make an exposition about how to make lasagna when the characters are in a life-threatening situation (unless you make some sort of a really bizarre story). In short, you can make some exposition about something when it becomes relevant to the story.

    Another thing to remember is that not everything needs exposition. Is it really paramount to explain the lore and mechanics behind magic, or can we just call it magic and let it be? Or, since many of us write Pokémon fan fictions, is it necessary to explain how a Pokéball works and how it stores a Pokémon? Those are just a couple of examples I’ve made up here. Ask yourself when you reach an important point in your story whether or not exposition is needed there. Remember, too much exposition serves no one.

    And finally, don’t be afraid to write too much exposition the first time you write it. You can always come back and edit when you look your story through and proofread it (which I will recommend everyone do that if they plan to write, fan fiction or not).
    Last edited by AceTrainer14; 26th February 2014 at 03:23 AM.

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  2. #2
    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson Sixteen: Exposition by Tophat Dragoneye

    Great write-up Tophat!

    Something I feel I should add: a great tool for exposition is sidekicks. That's why they were invented! Where would we the audience be when following The Doctor, Sherlock Holmes, or The Lone Ranger if they didn't have to explain the complicated bits to the companion, Watson, or Tonto? Sidekicks are a technique to force exposition to come out through dialogue, one that has been used ever since the first radio plays.

    Keep this in mind when designing your characters. It's always great to have a wide coverage of lack-of-knowledge between each member of your main ensemble, if that makes any sense. If your fic is about Pokemon battles, cooking, and sword fights then you could have one character who isn't particularly bright when it comes to battles, and another who knows nothing about pasta or swordplay. That's how you pull off Tophat's lasagna exposition.
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  3. #3
    Because I like Tophats Tophat Dragoneye's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson Sixteen: Exposition by Tophat Dragoneye

    Many thanks, @AetherX;

    What you say is absolutely true, but it isn't just sidekicks that can be used to deliver exposition. Other characters of various importance can also deliver that as well. Nevertheless, thanks for adding more to this lesson. :)

    Many thanks to Blue Dragon for the signature

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    Default Re: Lesson Sixteen: Exposition by Tophat Dragoneye

    Great topic. I struggle with this myself.

    When there is backstory that needs to be explained to the reader it's difficult to handle especially if the POV character is already aware of the backstory. It becomes a challenge to convey the info to a reader without sounding awkward or simply dumping the info onto the reader.

  5. #5
    Legendary Pokemon クリスタル's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson Sixteen: Exposition by Tophat Dragoneye

    Something I wanted to add specifically for the Pokemon fandom.

    I do not agree much about do not need to explain how the Pokeuniverse works, such as what is Pokemon, how the Pokeball works, what is the Pokemon Storage System and how it works, etc. That is because not even the canon had given any detailed explanation of the canon Pokeuniverse, also because one fanfic writer's headcanon maybe different from others' headcanon, that's why I feel it is necessary to explain these basic things.

    But of course, I do not mean to info-dumping right at the beginning before the story had not yet even started. Explaining everything at the beginning is really not a good approach, the best is of course give the right exposition just at the right moment. For example explaining how the Pokeball works during an event mainly involve Pokeballs, such as a broken Pokeball need to fix, or asking Kurt to make a special Pokeball, etc.

    And as another example, in my current crossover fic, Pokemon speak human language through telepathy is a common phenomenon within that specific universe, but that is not something canon, so it is necessary to explain at the beginning. I started off in the prologue in the form of a letter directed to a Pokemon professor by another researcher, briefly and yet in simple wordings discussing the research topic of "The Telepathy Ability of Pokemon". At the same time, I also start the letter off by suggesting the existence of the mysterious monster called "Pokemon" within the world. This should give a brief insight of what is Pokemon, and the letter itself give a brief insight of what my world is like.

    But, the truly detailed explanation of what is Pokemon, also other things such as what is Pokemon Trainer, what is the job of Pokemon Trainer, etc. are discussed only in Chapter 2. There exists an event that a super-ignorant character (from another canon that is not Pokemon canon) asking this and that about what the protagonist is doing, and the protagonist had to explain everything meticulously (and yet annoyingly) to it. I planned this event as such because it provides a good chance to explain how my world works, but the event itself is not solely for the purpose of exposition, it is also used to let that ignorant character know more about the protagonist, and finally it gain interest to follow the protagonist.
    Last edited by クリスタル; 1st March 2014 at 08:34 AM.
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