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Writing Exposition vs. Editing Exposition

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Oh, the wonders of writing exposition. Don’t you just love it?

The opportunity to explain why and how your story exists can be downright thrilling.

It’s your chance to tell readers about the world you see in your head, whether fantastical or realistic... your opening to establish everything they’re going to need to begin the story or continue it in properly informed fashion.

So that’s precisely what you do when writing exposition. You explain, and you tell and you establish during the first-draft writing process. And you use all the right descriptors and poetic or dramatic language to emphasize it along the way.

As a result, it’s looking good!

It still looks pretty good during your first-draft editing process. You add a few more adjectives and adverbs for clarification’s sake, sure. But overall, you’re not worried about your exposition.

Besides, there are plenty of other aspects that demand your attention.

That’s normally how we view our efforts in this regard right up until our second or even third-draft editing experience. Then, perhaps, we get a clue that we may have gone a little or even a lot overboard.

As acknowledged earlier this week, exposition is important.

It’s just not so important that we need to use every adjective and adverb in the book to explain it.

Analyze your exposition for areas you can simplify.
I can’t think of a single novel-length manuscript that could get away with not involving exposition. Working off that claim, your novel-length manuscript more than likely involves exposition too. Perhaps too much of it.
If you’re like most chapter-book storytellers, you can get a little... shall we say wordy. A less polite way of putting it would be to say that you ramble on and on about certain aspects until your readers are bored out of their minds. In which case, cut it out! Literally. There are ways to explain what you need to explain in far fewer words.

Contrary to your first-draft writing and first-draft editing analysis, it’s true. There are still improvements that can be made in this regard.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the issue of exposition run amok from a different angle. For now though, let’s consider the following lines.

Karen was young when her mother left. She was so young when that woman ran away into the night, leaving her husband – the man she’d said “forever” to – and her three children behind like so much unwanted baggage.
In what felt like the blink of an eye, a handsome and once happy forty-four-year-old, a fifteen-year-old who wanted nothing more than to be normal, a bright and vivacious twelve-year-old who loved to dance, and a five-year-old who should have been carefree were all devastated.
All wrecked, never to be the same again.

How could you cut that down? Let’s start with “All wrecked, never to be the same again." That emphasis of the family being devastated comes across as unnecessary – even sappy – when “devastated” is a strong enough word by itself.

The same goes for “the man she’d said forever to.” Everyone knows what marriage is supposed to mean. You can emphasize it later if need be through Karen musing or talking. Maybe not through exposition though.

On a slightly different note, listing off the kids’ ages right then and there could come across as clunky instead of descriptive. Again, those details can be laid out in future paragraphs.

It's important to remember that exposition doesn’t have to all be – and probably shouldn’t all be – dumped together.

Spread it out more. Let it breathe. Or, as we’ve said before, consider cutting it out altogether.

Your readers might like you more as a result.

Editor’s Note: Read the next post on editing exposition here.

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