Mastering Narrative Exposition

Exposition in writing can make or break a story. Exposition that’s artfully placed throughout the narrative with just the right balance of discovery and suspense can elevate an average novel or screenplay. Using too much exposition at once, or using it clumsily, will slow down the action of your story and make your readers lose interest in the struggles your characters are facing.

As a writer, you must entice, amuse, alarm and surprise your reader, foregrounding engaging themes and voices so that readers know when, where and why your story takes place. Exposition requires both creativity and research on behalf of the writer.

To create a setting, introduce characters, provide background information, and prepare readers / audiences / viewers for future events by revealing their nature and consequences.

Exposition locates readers / audiences / viewers in the world of the story: it establishes the “who, what, where, when,” and sometimes “why” of a plot. 

Exposition gives you a way to show the readers the sort of conflicts your characters have faced in the past, what their hopes and desires are, and what sort of experiences—good and bad—have made them into the people they are today. This makes them feel more real to the reader.

Exposition is a crucial part of a story because it serves as the foundation for the reader to understand why something that happens is important to the characters.

When your reader can relate to your characters, this gives you a better chance of keeping their attention until the end of your novel or screenplay.

Exposition gives your readers a wider view of the world you’re creating; adds depth to your characters and broadens your core story to include a greater range of space and time.

Poorly crafted exposition risks dragging down your story’s plot, effective exposition takes your fiction writing to a whole new level and makes the humanity within it feel even more real.