It shouldn’t surprise anyone who slaves over the stove in a literary kitchen that there are a million pieces of advice when it comes to description and exposition. With as many stances as there are grains of rice in a full pot, it can be difficult to figure out the absolute best way to go about those elements of writing. Though I have my own opinions (a true middle of the ground approach, to be honest), I think for today we should simply talk about one of the subtle elements of exposition: implication.
We all know what it means to imply something. With the pared down narratives that many authors are suggested to follow these days (something I don’t quite agree with, but that’s neither here or there), understanding how to effectively describe and exposit through implication is more important than ever. Even if you don’t want to pare down your descriptions that much, there are genres and story elements that thrive with the use of implied traits, events, and description.
The art of implication is one of careful balance. It is much like foreshadowing – in fact, it’s pretty much the same thing at its core – in that you are essentially crafting a mini-mystery of sorts for your reader. You provide clues, dropped in passing through the narrative, to let them understand that certain things are certain ways. The most basic form of this is how good characterization is handled, as we are informed about character traits through the actions and reactions of the characters as opposed to direct information. It seems so simple at first, be vague about things, never come right out with it, etc.
The problem is that it’s easy to go the other way, being so vague and hint-y (that’s a scientific term, folks!) that there are no real, actual clues for the reader to follow. If you don’t provide the trail, the reader won’t reach the conclusion you need them to make. This leads to that careful balance I mentioned before. What makes it worse for me as an advice-column-kind-of-guy is that I can’t really draw up clear guidelines for an author to follow.
Maybe that’s the real implication of this article. Maybe the best approach to exposition and description is to find the proper balance for your writing style, for your novel, for your genre, and for your personal intent. I’ve read masterpieces that riveted me where everything is minutely described and borefests that follow every prescribed, mainstream writing rule out there.
Or maybe I was too vague and the real implication is that I really like grilled cheese sandwiches.
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!