martedì 30 aprile 2019

Ah, ok! Sorry, I'm a bit new to writing. I guess both are just information dumps, but when I thought about it I was thinking about how Narration is typically in the beginning of the movie/book, trying to explain the lore, versus some writings where two characters would be dialoguing and the lore comes up in conversation? (Again, new to writing, I'm sorry if this doesn't make sense!)

Which is Better: Exposition or Expository Dialogue?

For those of you who aren’t following this, here is Anonymous’ original question & my original answer:

Q: Hi! I was curious about Narration vs Exposition? Is one better than the other, or is it conditional?

A: Hmm. That depends on what you mean by “narration” and “exposition.” I’ve seen them used pretty much synonymously. But if you give me your definitions, I’ll tell you which to use where, and what one is better :)

Ahhhhhhhhh. Ok, so what you’re talking about is the difference between exposition, expository dialogue, and dialogue.

Exposition is when the author or narrator tells the reader something directly (lore, backstory, info, etc.). This can happen in a preface, as you mentioned, or anywhere in the book.

Expository dialogue is a slightly pejorative term for when one or more characters delivers the same information above. If done well, this can work. But it can easily be done badly. It basically becomes a lazy way for the author to deliver exposition without it technically being exposition, because it has quotation marks around it.

Regular dialogue, on the other hand, is a great tool for writers to give information to readers without boring them. The trick is this: Does the character have a reason to tell the other character this information? Or are they telling each other something they already know for the benefit of the reader?

This is why the trope of the naive child or the new-kid-on-the-block is so common, particularly in fantasy stories. It doesn’t seem clunky or boring when Ron explains stuff to Harry, because Harry legitimately doesn’t know.

So. To the question of whether exposition or working the information in naturally through dialogue is the better choice, I’d lean toward the latter. With the caveat that for highly complex fantasy stories, readers have a higher tolerance for straight-up exposition, and sometimes it’s just not feasible to work every-single-thing into dialogue. There’s a balance.

Suggestion: Take out your favorite fantasy book and mark how and where the author delivers world information to the reader. Then take out a fantasy book you felt was really boring, and do the same thing. If you do this a few times, you’ll get a sense of what YOU prefer as a reader, which can help you figure out how you might prefer to do things as a writer.

Hope this helps! And no worries about not knowing the terms. Even among experienced writers, we’re all just making the words up anyway. That’s why I often ask for clarification so I know I’m on the same page with someone :)


The Literary Architect is a writing advice blog run by me, Bucket Siler. For more writing help, check out my Free Resource Library, peruse my post guide, or hire me to edit your novel or short story. xoxo

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