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Author: Subject: [Fantasy] Exposition?
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[*] posted on 5-23-2011 at 07:27 PM
Exposition?


When you have a fantasy or SF world, you basically have to start explaining how it works as soon as possible. I am having difficulty with this. It sort of has two parts, starting off the introduction and then slowly letting it evolve.

For the introduction part, the first point is that I have to explain a main cultural point, and why my character is a second-class citizen, because of a special sort of injury he sustained early in life. This is to explain his narcissism and his resentment of the aristocracy. But I also want to get across a basic sense of the social structure, the arrangement of the city, the different purposes of the general areas/why they're relevant, etc. The second point is that there is some background history which I have to explain, and the reader needs to know it almost immediately, in order to understand what is happening.

I'm trying to avoid just having three paragraphs where the MC we've only just met suddenly turns introspective, thinking about the background. But if things just start happening, nothing makes sense. I'm trying to stick as much of it as I can into conversations, or as a thought in between, but either a single sentence is not sufficient, or it ends up disrupting the flow of the story as the conversations become of sufficient length to explain. It also derails the plot arc, as the scene stops furthering it. The end result is that a lot of words go by before anything important happens.

Secondly, I wanted to evolve the exposition, by slowly adding in relevant details. Same issues occur as above.

So basically my question is, what techniques does everyone use to incorporate all the complicated exposition required? How do you explain enough at the beginning, while still hooking the reader? How do you do this by still keeping the scene concise, and relevant, and without having entire conversations whose sole purpose is to explain stuff?

On a secondary note, how can I truly tell whether something really is too long and winding, or whether it's just me?

Any ideas would be welcome!




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[*] posted on 5-23-2011 at 11:15 PM


I feel like sometimes I have the same issue. My story too has a heavy background that needs to be explained. I even have a prologue (which may fix your issues if that is the way you want to go). I just felt that it was the only way to accurately get the history across.

Quote:


The year 09 marked the most remarkable discovery in mankind’s history. Found buried deep within the earth, hidden beside its natural counterpart, were magically enhanced ores and minerals. Suddenly, elements of all kind had a magical opposite. Bestowed with the name of mystic elements, they gave their owners great magical powers, but to certain degrees. Some mystic elements, like mystic emerald, only enhanced one’s magic. While others, like mystic jade, could create powerful shields of protection. But rarer and more valuable was the wondrous mystic silver. It was said to grant total and unbeatable power to its possessor. But just a chance at conquering the mystic silver came at a hefty price. Those who simply touched the mystic element, who were not worthy, faced death. But those that the mystic silver did accept grew high with power and might. Luckily for the world of man, the mystic silver only allowed those who were wise and pure to gain its power. These great men, bestowed with the title of high summoners, for they summoned great power, helped govern the land for hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, old age could not be stopped by any mystic element. Soon, the high summoners had all moved on. And the new generation of man could not conquer the mystic silver. Many studied and trained, given the titles of summoners, or those who quested to be high summoners of great power, trying to become pure enough for the mystic silver. But none succeeded.

Kings had long ago hoarded the mystic silver, convinced it could save their lands. But as the high summoners died away, they locked the mystic silver away as well. Waiting for a time when it could be used once again.

Even thousands of years after the last high summoner died, men tried to conquer the power. Doing good to try and become pure enough, these summoners led rise to a new class in society. The year of 6130 marked the first clash between society’s classes, between lands, since the discovery of the mystic elements. Wizards and those who worked with the mystic elements, mystics, rose up against the common people.

And as of 7201, the world has been at war, but why they are at war, has long been forgotten.


That's my prologue. I have not edited any part of my novel yet, I'm still working on finishing up the end. But I think that this adequately sets up the story without really giving too much away (unless you think it gives too much away? I have not had any feedback on this piece yet).

This is also what I did to incorporate the main character's title and how people felt about him; doing something like this might help you incorporate more into the actual dialogue.

Quote:
Wet slosh from unknown animals splashed around his heavy boots as he marched through the mess of the busy city. But while his clothes were just as dirty as the peasants, the single symbol that adorned his vest shone through. And it was because of this symbol that had the peasants throwing themselves out of his way.

“Make way for the High Executioner!”
a squat man called, tripping and falling as he tried to keep up with the solitary man he was following.


Sorry that was so long!! But I hope it helped, even if a little!




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Babbett - fantasy novel
The Murderous Misadventures of Mel Mary - murder mystery

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[*] posted on 5-24-2011 at 01:30 PM


For my July novel, I'm going the prologue route. Then again, I'm not giving out much in the way of backstory - the world as a whole doesn't see a lot of focus in my novel, and the social stuff where it relates shows up as I go. Magic (where it appears) comes in bits and pieces when necessary. The prologue is mostly just a brief intro into the primary setting and a couple of the characters.

It also doesn't hurt that for first drafts I don't worry too much about exposition. I go back and add it later if something necessary ends up never stated in the novel, or if an important point is not made clear soon enough in the story.




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[*] posted on 5-27-2011 at 10:29 PM


Thanks for the posts. I like the idea of just not worrying about exposition and just adding in what's necessary later.

True, a prologue is also a good idea. For some reason I was thinking it was like cheating or something...I don't know. I guess I'm just being too hard on myself. I think part of the reason is that this particular piece is a cowrite, so I can't really go back and change things, like replacing the prologue I've already written; I also don't know where it's going, so I am putting additional pressure on myself to get it right, because someone else will be seeing my crappy work. ^_^ Oh well.




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[*] posted on 6-1-2011 at 06:44 AM


I almost never write prologues or have more than two small "exposition" paragraphs at one time. I tend to just throw the readers into the story (often with little to no background) and have them learn as they go. It does sometimes limit what I can talk about until it's explained a little, but I've also found that my readers (family and friends of course) prefer to have questions about "Well, what is the Corporation? How is it funded? Where did it come from?" than to read 3-5 paragraphs explaining it all.

For myself and my readers, I'd rather throw them into the thick of things and let them wonder than take the time to spell it all out.
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[*] posted on 6-9-2011 at 06:30 PM


I agree with Somnia. My plan for my current story is to cut to the chase and let the details of how things work trickle in gradually. I tried using explanations in my last WriMo, and that resulted in monologues about magic that lasted a full page. Explain aspects of your world/story as they come up--for example, discuss geography when your characters are traveling through the countryside, mention cultural taboos/society hierarchy when they arrive in town, discuss the government structure when they meet the mayor, etc. I'm assuming that you're aiming for fluidity in the writing, so don't bog it down with long chunks of info.

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[*] posted on 6-10-2011 at 11:35 AM


I think if you are really clear in your own mind how the world works, you often don't need all that much exposition, it will be clear enough for the readers. It is a fine line, of course, but I like to be treated as an intelligent being that can connect the dots for myself, so overexplanations in stories tend to turn me off.

Whether to use a prologue or not is more about the feeling you want to create than cheating, at least I think so. What kind of narrator you want to use is also a factor to consider. My story have a historian as a narrator, compiling his work from different sources. This lets me switch POVs and make side-comments, and even include parts of other documents (letters, diaries etc) when I feel that will serve the story. And I can put in chucks of exposition that just tells what is needed with little fuss, because the narrator can step in and address the readers with comments like: "As is common knowledge (insert important information)" or "What X did not know at the time, was that (insert important information)" or "(insert important information) has fallen out of memory in these days, but (continue with important information)".

Since my narrator is part of the fiction, but not of the events told, I can play a lot. I have not included a prologue, but if I have wanted, it would have fitted the style.




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[*] posted on 6-17-2011 at 11:51 AM


As a reader, I dislike a lot of exposition. I'm reading because I want a story, not a textbook.

As a writer, I know there is the temptation to add in lots of explanation because you want the reader to understand where you're coming from and why a character acts as he or she does. But I think the readers out there are a lot more intelligent than you may give them credit for. It's a lot more fun to build in background information as you go along in the story--sort of like a puzzle with successive clues. And at the same time, it makes for a more compelling story.

The best thing to do is to study how other successful writers do this by reading a lot. There are some authors who do awesome prologues or manage to sneak in info into their narratives without it sounding like an info dump. And think like a reader, too. When I read something, I finding it much more satisfying if I manage to figure things out myself--even if I have to do a little thinking--than to have the author spoon feed things to me.




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[*] posted on 6-17-2011 at 01:00 PM


There are some people who like a lot of the description and stuff, however most people don't. And nor do editors and publishers.

Another thing they don't like is prologues and flashbacks. Any time I go to a writer's conference and the publishers and editors talk they're like "NO PROLOGUES OR FLASHBACKS OR ELSE WE WILL SMITE YOU!"*

*dramatization




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[*] posted on 6-17-2011 at 03:05 PM


What Orson Scott Card did with Ender's series is he made a prologue for Speaker for the Dead. But he couldn't get it right without making it painful to read. So, naturally, he went into more and more detail, until the prequel, Ender's Game, was made. Now I'm not saying to go write a prequel book, but don't be afraid to go into more detail for, instead of prologue, a chapter or two. Try telling the story of the character's injury and reveal as much as you can about the culture without actually going out and saying this is the culture. Jump forward in time. That means no flashback, and no prologue. A first chapter with something interesting happening and teaching the reader about the world. Then the second chapter is where your main plot begins.



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[*] posted on 7-8-2011 at 07:43 PM


I find working in bits and pieces of establishing detail near the beginning, around the action scenes, works well.
Rather than try to put it in long sections, have scenes that naturally beg a paragraph or two of explanation, or possibly just a sentence or two.

Another possibility is to have quote pages at the beginning of each chapter, such as: -excerpt from the History of Ritorian; quotes from famous figures either real life or from your novel; -excerpt from the local news
They bring the feel of the world's mindset /circumstances in without being an actual interruption, because they are easy to ignore and then come back to.
But truthfully I've seen nearly every style you can think of that has been made to work well. But just because one person can make it work doesn't mean everyone can. Its okay to experiment.
Co-writes are hard, but don't think of it as "oh, someone else will see my crappy mistakes". Think of it as a collaboration. If some of the details don't work, you've got someone else to brainstorm with and go, "So, if we change that, then this, and then we, and ...maybe that? Yeah, that'll work."
Because, you know, stress will kill us quicker than anything. ;)

And to PrincessxShawn, you're quotes are really intriguing. Keep up the good work. :)

[Edited on 7-9-2011 by Foodmoon]
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