From Steering the Craft, a wonderful how-to guide by Ursula K. Le Guin:
“Almost all narrative carries some load of explaining and describing. This expository freight can be as much a problem in memoir as it is in science fiction. Making the information part of the story is a learnable skill. As always, a good part of the solution lies in simply being aware that there is a problem….
“The world of the story must be created and explained in the story. This is part of the particular interest and beauty of science fiction and fantasy: writer and reader collaborate in world-making. But it’s a tricky business.
“If the information is poured out as a lecture, barely concealed by some stupid device — “Oh, captain, do tell me how the anti-matter dissimulator works!” And then he does, endlessly — we have what science fiction writers call an Expository Lump. Crafty writers (in any genre) don’t allow Exposition to form Lumps. They break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story…”
Ah, what to do, what to do? We all face this same challenge, whatever our genre: conveying information our readers need to plunge into and get lost in the worlds we’re creating.
I’ve wrestled with “Expository Lumps” in my children’s fantasy—and I’m sure you’ve done the same in your own work. Creating a seamless narrative takes wit and skill: We want action and world-building to support the characters we create without hitting our readers over the head or boring them.
Luckily, as Ursula says so well, creating “invisible exposition” is a learnable skill and she offers a simple exercise to help hone it
The goal is to tell a story by presenting two characters solely through dialoguse in order to tell the reader things without appearing to:
1) Write a page or two of pure dialogue.
2) Write it as if it were a play, with A and B as the character’s names. “No stage directions, no description of the characters. Nothing but what A says and what B says. Everything the reader knows about who they are, where they are, and what’s going on comes through what they say.”
3) Once you’ve completed your little playlet, ask yourself: Is it clear? Do readers learn enough about the characters and the situation — or do they need more information?
Becoming craftier at conveying information through dialogue is a great way to hone narrative skills because it forces you to avoid those pesky Exposition Lumps. And the more you, the happier your readers will be. Write on!
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