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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

So we're scared of exposition

Show don't tell, right?

I'm thinking about a whole complex of problems, and about buymeaclue's frequent and absolutely correct assertion that the correct answer to any question on writing is 'it depends.'

And the fact that many writers (not all) follow a course in their development where, at first, we tell too much. We explain and exposit everything. And then we get told 'show don't tell' and 'exposition is the very devil' and we stop explaining.

And become incomprehensible.

(There's an associated complex of problems that is writer coyness--inexperienced writers who think the appropriate way to tell a story is to conceal as much from the reader as possible, and then either reveal it in a twist ending, or leave it to the reader to figure out what the story is about. Often, I think, this second issue is because the writer doesn't actually know what the story is about, and is hoping the reader will make something up.)

In any case, I'm going to go on record as saying that, in my opinion, exposition is an art. And good exposition is so integral to the structure of story as to be almost indispensable. There are writers who can get away with a story that is almost all expo, and there are writers who can tell a story almost entirely without it, but we mere mortals in the trenches must compromise.)

And in side notes, today in Neil Gaiman's Blog we get this article of discussion:

Well, you're writing to communicate. Unless part of what's important about the story is that the reader not understand something, if you're using a word or term that you know most people reading won't understand, then explaining it somewhere, somehow, not necessarily the first time you use it, is a wise idea.

As for how you do it, that's your call. If you do it with enough assurance, you can simply tell people things. Or you can have your characters tell people things. Or you can footnote. Or have a dancing paperclip leap in and explain, then fly out of the story never again to be seen. As you say, do what you think best: that's the joy of being a writer. You get to make your own rules and build your own worlds, and things happen the way you want, because you say so.

Go there and read for more.

Also for your delectation: Charles Coleman Finlay on The Artful Infodump.

Moderation in all things. Including moderation.

(papersky's concept of 'incluing' and my own beloved 'infobolus' would also come in for discussion here, in a rational world, but I'm working on a short story. Which has a lot of exposition in it, come to think of it.)


This is so true, and I seem in my writing to have all of these things at the same time - overexposition _and_ coyness - and contemplate right now the pile of critted copies of my stories on the one accessible desk with dread.


Heee. Well, you know, That's the Carnegie Hall thing--practice practice practice.

And I *still* do that. It's such a fine point of balance, to be transparent without being dull.
...many writers (not all) follow a course in their development where, at first, we tell too much. We explain and exposit everything. And then we get told 'show don't tell' and 'exposition is the very devil' and we stop explaining.

I think that this is where fanfic writers have an advantage over original fiction writers, in that there is usually an accepted canon for their universe, and much of the explanations can be omitted. It gets a lot harder, however, when the universe exists solely in your own head ;O)

Hi, by the way. Just surfed in after a recommendation from lori


Sure. Although I've seen fanfic that was all exposition--usually of setup to the plot that didn't really need to be explained, because the reader would have figured it out in context.

But yeah, overall, I agree.

And welcome! Come on in!


I think that this is where fanfic writers have an advantage over original fiction writers, in that there is usually an accepted canon for their universe, and much of the explanations can be omitted.

Huh. Interesting. I don't read a ton of fanfic, so it's very possible that I haven't seen a representative sampling, but while I think in theory you're absolutely right, in practice there seems to be a heckuva lot of fanfic out there that's just full of exposition. Usually character backgroundy stuff (and maybe I should add that I'm mostly reading slash).

Which isn't quite the same as explanation of how the world works. But at least in the slashy stuff, it seems like dwelling in what's past is more common than using the canon as a jumping-off point and then doing something new?
[ Firstly, allow me to squeal over that icon, because it's far too cute! Secondly, please forgive any incoherence, typos and wanderings from the subject; I've just woken from a long nap and am fuzzy-headed, still ;O) ]

Moving mostly in slash circles myself, I know what you mean, but as I've seen explained by someone whose name escapes me right now, "it depends" - in this case largely on the fandom you're reading in.

A fandom such as Harry Potter expects the reader to have at least some knowledge of JK Rowling's world. The meaning of such words as 'muggle' is never explained, and while the reader already immersed in that fandom is aware that it means 'non-magical person' to those that have not read the books or seen the movies, it makes wading through an HP fanfic without a companion glossary hard work.

I have never been able to get into HP fanfic, despite being recced stories by many good writers. The fandom itself doesn't appeal to me; but of the fandoms that I do read, I've been lucky to see some truly inventive work, which leads me (somewhat vaguely) to your second point.

To me, a lot of fanfic could also be labelled 'denial fic' for the simple reason that it defies canon. Take, for example, Star Wars - The Phantom Menace. Qui-Gon's death is jokingly referred to as "the thing that didn't happen on Naboo" and this fandom is a prime example of writers not accepting canon, but instead writing stories where, again, certain things (such as the Force) are a given.

When I first entered TPM fandom I was a bit bewildered by all the talk of Force-bonds, but after reading two or three stories I felt confident enough to try my hand at a rather ambitious story that looks a little rusty through the eyes of time, but still stands up pretty well. It helped me greatly that, IMO, this fandom is lucky to have some of the best writers I've ever read working in it. It has also spawned the greatest number of alternate reality and alternate universe fiction that I've seen; stories of great inventiveness, if only for the attempts to find similar names for the characters!

One also has to take into account the spin-off series of books, endorsed by George Lucas, such as the Jedi Apprentice series. There are, IMO, little more than published fanfic, yet characters that are mentioned only briefly - such as Qui-Gon's failed padawan Xanatos - have been taken and fleshed out beautifully by some TPM fanfic authors.

Of late, through RPG writing, I've seen some incredible leaps and bounds from those jumping off points that you mentioned. Chance comments in IM conversations have led to entire new worlds, complete reworkings of both characters and canon, crossovers and insertion of meticulously crafted original characters, and from where I stand, in the universes where I currently play, I regularly get the chance to exercise my imagination with people and characters and ideas that truly inspire me.

So while yes, there's a lot of stuff out there that leaves me cold, I still feel that the fanfic circles I move in are filled with writers that don't expect me to know everything, but regard me as having enough intelligence to work things out for myself and use my own imagination.


Hee! Glad you like him. :)

Good points all. And I don't mean to suggest that I think fanfic's necessarily a bad thing...just that I guess I wish more writers would take advantage of that understanding. It may well be a symptom of writers lacking confidence in themselves and/or their readers, and that's common enough in anyone who puts words to paper.

At the same time...I think one of the marks of a really fine piece of fanfic is that it makes sense to people not familiar with the fandom as well at to people who are.

Frex, I've read some Queer As Folk pieces. All I know about the show is what a friend's told me, and I still grokked the stories. Same with a few Due South thingies--I know nothing about Due South! But they worked because they were really well-written. I could pick up enough in the lines and between them to find the story satisfying and as far as I could tell, readers who were fans enjoyed them, too.

Which really goes for original fic as well as fanfic. A story can have an inside joke, but if it's only an inside joke, it's going to fall flat for everyone who doesn't get the joke. That may or may not be a problem, depending. If you're writing specifically for an audience that does get the joke (or the fandom), you're in business.

Hmm. I've completely lost track of what I was trying to say. I think it's my beloved "balance" rant again...in this case a balance between providing enough information in a way that it reaches the folks who need it and doing so without condescending to the folks that don't while providing enough new stuff to make it worth their while, too.

(She says, glowering in the general direction of the all-exposition, no-muscle story in sore need of revision.)

Heh. I think I'm back to "it depends."


Ooo. Shiny.

tanaise calls it 'shutting the gates,' and likens telling a story to herding sheep through a maze. If you leave the wrong gate open, your readers will wander off.

If too many of them wander, it's likely your fault rather than theirs.