Episode 2: Swimming Below the Surface

Here are the show notes from our second episode which aired live July 21, 2018 at 9 a.m. EDT on MakeThePointRadio.com and 100.7 The Point FM local to Columbia, S.C. 

Co-Hosts:

Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer, professor of business and Preston Taylor Stone, fiction writer, poet, graduate student in literature

Theme for the day

What is exposition and how can you make it painless?

Agenda

  • Who we are and why we’re here — Episode 1 recap
  • The topic for the week: Painless Exposition
  • What is exposition?
  • Book discussion — currently reading and its analysis through the lens of the topic
  • Craft book discussion — Stephen King’s On Writing
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Episode 1 Recap

So last week we covered Planning and Pantsing.

Some basics:

Planning is … going in with a detailed plan

Pantsing is … going in following a character’s voice

They are both DRAFTING techniques that lead to revision.

Pantsers will plan during revision, planners will pants through creation (the “frenzy”)

Why does it matter? Because writing is work and you have to be willing to do the work or you’re not a writer.

Some other housekeeping:

  • We have a blog. Here’s the link: writeonsc.blog
  • We have a Facebook page. Here’s the link: facebook.com/writeonsc
  • We’re using the #WriteOnSC in our personal social media, so you can search Twitter and Instagram for that.

Segment 2

Exposition- literary device used to provide contextual information to your story

Definition by Literary Devices.net

Why is it important to have exposition in your writing? It helps to establish the parameters of your story so that what happens actually has weight

Novel-Writing-Help.com says “[Readers] need to know where the character has come from, what their childhood was like, why their marriage failed – [everything that] helps to explain what they are doing here, what they want, and why they want it”

How do I include exposition effectively?

Six ways per booksaurus (link above):

  • Through Conflict
  • Through dialogue
  • Through thoughts a character has about his or her life
  • Through character introduction
  • Background information delivered through narration (compare/contrast — what was and what is)
  • Letters, newspaper clippings, medical bills (other written evidence)

Devices for delivering exposition:

    • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green– numbering the Katherines and assigning each one significant expositional value
    • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby — Top 5 lists as a jargon for the record store and also a device for delivering exposition
    • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley — the epistolary novel uses the letter format to provide background information
    • What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell — There is a trend in literary fiction of using the sentence itself to provide both exposition and move the plot forward. James Wood from The New Yorker says “In an age of the sentence fetish, Greenwell thinks and writes, as Woolf or Sebald do, in larger units of comprehension; so consummate is the pacing and control, it seems as if he understands this section to be a single long sentence.”
    • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk — use of verbiage from medical diagnosis pamphlets that personifies the ailments repurposed for exposition on his family
    • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — flashbacks take us back to previous moments so we can understand why the character behaves the way she does/ believes the things she does

Television uses devices for exposition as well via “Previously on….” montages or through dialogue where characters briefly describe their relationship with newly introduced characters

Is exposition inherently boring?

There seems to be a debate about how to include exposition without it becoming an ‘information dump’ (paragraphs dedicated sheerly to explaining rather than advancing the plot)

The question becomes how do we balance narrative tension with giving exposition?: we need to make sure the reader cares about the information they’re going to be told (how do we do that? We make sure the plot is compelling)

Deliver exposition on a need-to-know basis. We don’t need the full history at once. We want to know why something is significant: the dance writers play is offering exposition and action in tandem so that the information matters and provides depth to the action

How much patience do we have to receive exposition? Do we trust that the author is giving us this information because it is relevant? Do we skim or do we trust everything we read is something we need to know?

Should exposition come before or after action?

It’s trial and error. If the exposition makes the action matter more, it should come before. If the exposition is only providing contextual information or if it links to what is about to happen next, then push it to after the action (or sandwiched between two actions).

Salt on the french fries: need it regardless whether you need the ketchup

Or salt in the ketchup: all going to the same place

If the character behaves a certain way, exposition can provide an explanation for why they behave the way they do (The Tethered Mage, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Segment 3

What we’re reading this week

Preston: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

– the sentences are chock full of information, exposition and plot, as if there is not enough time to separate these into separate paragraphs because this separation may cause the reader to become bored?

-Nguyen says in his Live at Politics & Prose podcast from SLATE that one of the things he does not like about workshops is this rule “show don’t tell” when he believes it should be both

Kasie: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Segment 4

Craft book of the month: Stephen King’s On Writing

Have a book to share that does an exceptional job with exposition? Leave a comment!

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