Exposition (#fromthestart)


Exposition is for explaining the basic rules of the story’s universe, introducing the main characters and conflict, helping to set the tone of the story, and generally trying to get the reader hooked and interested.

Introducing the basic rules:

  • Universes have rules.  What kind of things are possible in this setting and what kind of things are not?  If there’s a magic system, periodic table science probably isn’t a possibility.  If there are aliens, witches probably aren’t a possibility.

  • Worldbuilding!  This would be the time to introduce very basic differences in science/history/planetary construction.  Running face first into a cyborg  and cursing about their extraordinarily solid (and sexy) build is one way to do it.

Introducing the Main Characters:

  • Keep them proactive.  Show the reader who they can be at their best, before the plot comes around to take them down.

  • Show them in their Ordinary Life.  Give the reader a sense of what the MC’s consider to be normal for them, so when things turn upside down there’s a frame of reference to compare to.

  • Give them a tangible goal at the start, if you can.  It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic, just give them a goal.  Simple is sometimes the best.  

  • What are the limits/flaws that the protagonist has?  The limits that get set help determine the character growth arc later on.

  • Don’t worry about making the character likeable, focus more on making them who they are.  People tend to like complete personalities more than flat friendly characters.  Remember, not everyone in real life is likeable, and what people like depends an awful lot on the individual anyway.

Introducing the conflict:

  • Someone or something is stopping the protagonist from what the protagonists wants.  How and why?  It’s not important to go into extensive detail, but a basic introduction would be useful.  Try throwing some cannon fodder minions at them, perhaps.

  • Avoid making the protagonist reactive to this threat.  For example, starting the first chapter with the protagonist’s life being threatened often ends up coming off as cliche and emotionally manipulative, since it’s rather easy to assume that the protagonist survives later on.

To help avoid infodumping, remember:

  • Readers don’t need to know all info about every character right away.  It gets overwhelming and takes out the fun of discovering what’s going on.  Same with the world’s history.  The point of the story is to explore.

  • Writing out all the information and biographies about the characters are fine, but keep it out of the draft.  Make a separate document for these notes, and add in small details later on as needed.

Most importantly:  Give yourself permission to suck.  Performance anxiety can be crippling, and the best way to prevent it is to remind yourself that First Drafts are always going to need fixing.  Better to get things out of the way and down on the page before the order gets shuffled around.

You can’t fix something if it doesn’t exist.  If something does exist, it can always be improved.

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