Exposition

How do you tell your readers what they need to know about your world and story and characters without just dumping all of the information on them in one long paragraph of boring? That is a very good question. Oftentimes, writers fall into a trap called info-dumping, which is exactly what it sounds like; throwing all of the information your reader needs to understand what’s happening on them in a big giant avalanche of boring.

Of course, readers still need information to understand the story. So how do we get that information to them without info-dumping?

Well, the way I see it, there are about three levels of information presentation.

Level one: “The bow was an enchanted thingamajig from whatchamacallit.”

Level two: “Hey, be careful with that bow! It’s an enchanted thingamajig from whatchamacallit and messing with it can mean trouble!”

Level three: Several paragraphs of interaction with the bow, over the course of which you reveal in a nice piecemeal fashion that it’s an enchanted thingamajig from whatchamacallit, what the consequences are for messing with it, and why it matters to the character.

Level two is absolutely a valid way to give your readers information; dialogue is infinitely more fun to read than just the narrator telling us information. But be careful, because you can fall into a trap called “maid-and-butler dialogue”, which is where two characters tell each other about something they should both already know for the benefit of the reader.

The most important part of Level Three is showing why this information matters to the characters. Continuing with the bow example, if you’re only explaining that the bow is an enchanted thingamajig from whatchamacallit because it was a cool bit of world-building, you might not want to include that at all. However, if it matters that the bow is from whatchamacallit because whatchamacallit will feature heavily into the plot later, then you may want to try to work it in.

All in all, just be careful with how you’re presenting information so as not to overwhelm your readers with too much all at once, even though they may need all of it to understand your book. Humans are fickle creatures, after all, and being forced to learn has never been something that most people are fond of; just ask any of my classmates.

Thanks to all two of you for reading this, and whatever happens, keep writing.

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