Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Exposition/Narrative/Dialogue

As I said in an earlier post, writing is very subjective. Yes, there are things you can do to make your writing better and many of those are almost sacrosanct. One of those is “show, not tell." Another is exposition, narrative, and dialogue, which Dave Long mentioned in the comments section of that post.

I have to admit I had only a murky idea of the difference between exposition and narrative. When I googled the terms, though, I found that I wasn’t alone. Many writers use the two words interchangeably; some writers believe they are the same. See here and here and here.

According to Renni Browne and Dave King of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers fame, you can use “narrative summary” for exposition, which is defined as “…your characters' pasts, or events that happened before the story began, or any information your readers might need to understand your plot.” Which seems to support the idea that where narrative ends and exposition begins is somewhat subjective.

Another definition of exposition: “that part of the structure that sets the scene, introduces and identifies characters, and establishes the situation at the beginning of a story or play. Additional exposition is often scattered throughout the story.”

So, if I’m understanding this, exposition is when you’re filling in the reader, giving them back story or bringing them up-to-date. Narrative is when you’re otherwise advancing the story. Hmm, I can see how the two get confused.

The mixture of those three elements—exposition, narrative, and dialogue—make up the bulk of your novel. And how that mixture is doled out, what the percentages are, is going to be a matter of preference, both yours and those who might be interested in what you write.