Ever heard the word exposition?
My trusty Collins English Dictionary defines exposition as: the part of a play, novel, etc., in which the theme and main characters are introduced.
Cool - got that.
So what is it about exposition that causes so much discussion among writers?
Hang on, let me rephrase that. We writers aren't particularly intersted in the mechanics - we just like to get the words down. Those who are interested in the juicy stuff like exposition are teachers of literary subjects, grammar experts and the like.
Did I just say nerd? I don't think I said it out loud, did I?
Anyway, when a character is introduced in a story, how, as readers, do we like that to happen? Do we even think about it?
I don't usually think about it, provided they slot seamlessly into their places. But I read a book last week that really annoyed me by the way it introduced characters. Everytime a new character arrived on the scene, the story was paused for one, sometimes two entire paragraphs while we were given a top-to-toe physical description of him or her.
This was irritating for me on a couple of levels. Firstly, because I was getting into the story, the introduction of a new character, to me, should enhance that experience. But as the story was put on hold to describe what the person looked like, I found myself growing frustrated and after a few characters arrived in a single chapter I wanted to shout - get on with it already!!
The fact that I was in a cafe at the time was the only thing that prevented an unseemly verbal explosion. Another chapter ... another new character ... another pause in the story. It was like an ad break when watching a movie, except that I couldn't get up to make a cup of tea or go to the wee-wee centre, and return to the couch in time for the movie to resume. Books just don't work that way.
Secondly, it irrirated me because I like a character to be revealed. Don't bombard me all at once with their height, weight, hair colour, eye colour, middle name, age, level of education, first boyfriend's auntie's second husband's middle name!
Okay so that last is a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.
Take your time. For example, don't tell me she had long, thick blond hair. Show me how weighty it was as she flicked it over her shoulder. Paint a picture of the golden highlights glinting in the sun.
This story, was called The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner (no relative). This was Ann's first book, she is a screen writer, and a very good one, but I think her screen writing background shows in the way she wrote this book.
Not that I didn't enjoy the story - I did. It's just that I found Ann's exposition a little ... irritating and in the end, rather predictable.
Am I just fussy? Probably, but let's not get bogged down in the nitty-gritty.
When I'm reading a book, I enjoy it best when the characters slowly reveal themselves to me. One of the golden rules of writing is that we should learn about characters from what they say and what other characters say about them.
Call me old fashioned, but that's my exposition preference.
What's yours? How do you like characters to be revealed? Do you like the wham - there it is, now on with the story, or do you prefer the slow reveal?
Until next week, why not read The Lost Swimmer. Exposition aside, it's a good, easy to read story.