About Plotting and Exposition

This is what I’m thinking about these days, stuff I never learned in the two years I put in as an undergrad with creative fiction and non-fiction writing classes.

One of the challenges of the fiction writer, especially in sci-fi, is presenting exposition on setting or backstory without coming off as tedious. It’s what I’ve heard Cory Doctorow call the “info-dump,” and apparently, a big chunk of it is something to avoid.

For instance, it’s not a good idea to start off telling a whole back-story in a prologue just to set the scene. Or in the middle of a conversation, the main character should not ruminate at length to give the reader an idea of what’s going on or the other character’s past history, and so on.

So, how does this get done? The info has to be presented somehow. As I read (or usually, re-reading), I’m noticing how the author in question accomplishes the task. Use of flashbacks, the out-of-place or otherwise ignorant main character or secondary (who needs to have everything explained), or some other device.

Love it or hate it, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an interesting example of this. I re-read this recently, and by the way, I’m kinda in a “wish-I-could-love-it” mood about it, but I don’t exactly hate it. Make sense?

How to present big chunks of backstory about Harry’s worst enemy while staying with the protagonist? If someone just told him, that might be dull. Instead, Rowling uses the Pensieve, which imparts the memories of others in scenes the reader can see. Harry and Dumbledore discuss the import of the memories before and after (it’s somewhat less dull that way).

Presto. When it comes to sci-fi, devices may be cybernetic instead of magical, but the concept is the same.

One thought on “About Plotting and Exposition”

  1. I read multi-volume fiction and this is critical in the later volumes. Too little, new readers can't engage, too much and the old readers are bored.

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