Sunday, November 13, 2022

To Tell Or Not To Tell

Hi all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Telling vs. Showing: When is narrative exposition necessary?

I'm not fond of giving too much writing advice. I really don't like specifics either, like saying when something is or isn't necessary in crafting a story. I think it can evoke fear or a feeling that there is a definite right and wrong way when it comes to writing. The way I see it: Every writer is different. Their storytelling is different. The way they process and deliver story is different. And readers? The diversity in reader expectation is immeasurable.

As a reader, I love novels that give me loads of essential info at the beginning of the tale and make me feel a connection to the world and main characters. But I've also read novels (and loved them) that start with a bang and catch me up on the background later. Different stories demand different methods, and I think that's part of the beauty of the writing craft.

One thing that has helped me with exposition is this question: Does my reader need to know this information right now in order to understand what's happening?

But again, this can mean different things to different writers. I've found myself thinking information wasn't important until later in a book when I realized the author had a plan, and that certain exposition was laid on the page for a reason. I've done this myself. But in the beginning stages of being a writer, plans can feel thin as water. It can seem like EVERYTHING in your story is important, making it difficult to decipher what background a reader requires to understand the story as it's unfolding on the page. This is often painstaking because--until the author knows the story they're trying to tell--how can they know what information to share?

Here are two things to consider:

  1. Maybe try not to worry about things like too much exposition until you have a draft and know your story. Once you have a better grasp of how things play out, then go back and trim what needs trimming.
  2. Examine other author's work. Look at bestselling and beloved books in your genre (and even outside your genre). Really pay attention to how they deliver background information. This is part of studying your craft, and it keeps you in tune with what your general readership is used to in the current market. You may still do things differently. That's okay. But I do think it helps to analyze well-written works.
So that's my very not-so-specific advice on telling vs. showing. I hope it helps!

~ Charissa

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