The World Of The Songstress Murders: Exposition Position! a.k.a. Types of Exposition And How To Use Them!

Today, we finish up (probably) a series of articles and podcasts in relation to my next book, The Songstress Murders, available for pre-order now!  Our topic of the moment is exposition, various types of that, and how it relates to genre fiction and world-building!


Writing Is A Bad Habit: TOO FAST! a.k.a. Brisk Pacing vs. Excessive Pacing

Let’s say you are writing an action-adventure piece, or an action piece, or really any genre that has a heavy action emphasis (from military sci-fi to a martial arts slugfest).  Obviously, you would want to set a fast pace for the plot to match the fast action.  The pace should be a driving force, keeping events rolling forward at break-neck speed … or should it?


The World Of … : The Inspector Redmane Mysteries – Building the Greatest City in Aardsland! a.k.a. Fantasy World Building

We’re mostly back on track today with another The World Of … article, this time talking about my soon-to-be-available first book in The Inspector Redmane MysteriesThe Songstress Murders!  Initially intended to talk about world-building in genre fiction, my crushing fatigue leads me to ramble about themes, the origins of the story, and all sorts of things, but it does get to that pesky world-building thing quite a bit.  Enjoy!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Empty Spaces a.k.a. World Building and Lack There Of

So I’ve been away from the writing article thing for the past few weeks, trying to get a dent made in my TBR list, but something has come up that I must talk about.  It’s something I’ve brought up undoubtedly many times, but it seems to be something that needs to be repeated.  It’s time to talk about world building again, folks!

We all know what world building is.  We should also all know how important it is to do.  No matter what your setting is, no matter how familiar or contemporary it might be, there’s always a need for world building in any book.  Why is that, you may be asking?  Why should I take up a chunk of my narrative and my reader’s time talking about a contemporary setting, for example?


Writing Is A Bad Habit: Don’t Talk Down To Anyone! a.k.a. Respecting the Reader

You might notice, my literary foodies, that so much of what we do as authors revolves around the reader.  I don’t think I need to outright state why that is.  Well, no, I believe I should, because I’d hate to start a discussion without being clear about the most critical core concept of said discussion.  We cater to the reader because the key, core, primary purpose of any work of fiction is to entertain the reader.

Yes, there are often many other purposes, meanings, and deeper concepts behind our craft, but it doesn’t change this primary purpose.  No matter what we wish to teach, what themes we explore, or what other agendas we may be pursuing, the baseline criteria of success remains entertainment.  So, to that end, we strive to keep the readers happy and engaged with our works.  One key element of this eternal quest that is sometimes left by the wayside is the concept of ‘respecting the reader’.

While I want to avoid a recursive definition, in the end, respecting the reader means just what it says.  We, as authors, must always remember that our readers are independent minds and are often as smart, possibly smarter, than ourselves.  We must treat the reader as a guest in our fictional worlds, not as an intruder and not as a child.

In the simplest examples I can think of, we can look at your typical fantasy world.  In such a construct of imagination, we may feel that we have to minutely explain every new concept that exists.  Part of this feeling is justified and necessary, hence the need for smart exposition.  At the same time, though, we must have faith in and respect the imaginations of our readers.  Not every minute aspect and detail must be told to them.  They’re smart, they can fill in blanks, and they can apply their real-world experiences to smooth over gaps.  Don’t treat your reader as a fool and you will earn their respect.

This also plays along with reader engagement as well.  Treating them as idiots and wasting time with needless minutae bores them, while making them think and use their imaginations engages them and stimulates them on a mental level deeper than simple info-dumps.  This is a vital a concept to more down-to-earth genres like mysteries and contemporary dramas as it is to the far-flung realms of fantasy and sci-fi.

This also applies to the flip-side of such scenarios.  Expecting the readers to be able to figure out things they simply could not, such as presenting a mystery whose clues are never revealed, is equally insulting.  It is akin to inviting a guest into your home for a party, then brushing them off after confining them to a small corner room.  They can hear the party-goers enjoying themselves in the other room, but are kept out of the fun.

This only scratches the surface of reader respect.  There are many ways to earn their respect and each carries with it the opposite way to throw that respect away.  Judging your level of reader respect may be very hard to do on your own, being so close to your own work, so this is one of the many areas where having a wide range of beta readers can help you with.

At the end of the day, remember, like with all other forms of respect, a good rule of thumb is to treat your readers in a way you would expect to be treated reading your favorite author.  Between that, common sense, and following the guidance of your beta readers, you can be an author who welcomes the rest of the world to share their vision!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Less Isn’t Always More a.k.a. Balanced Exposition and Description

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is possible to be too brief. While we as authors strive to avoid info dumps, telling not showing, and letting our language dive into purple prose, we also must counterbalance this with smart exposition, action-based characterization, and vivid description. As you can see, this is quite a balancing act. In the past, we’ve talked about what happens if you overdescribe, and today we’ll talk about the dangers of underdescription.


Writing Is A Bad Habit: Seeing The World For The First Time

As a writer, your job is a hectic one.  Not only do you need to create and characterize your cast, you have to script the plot, provide dramatic tension, and so on.  One of the most important duties you face is the creation and description of the world surrounding your characters.  After all, every actor needs a stage on which to perform!

There are many theories and styles of writing descriptive text, too many for such a humble article as this.  What I want to focus on today is the balance of description with the action of the plot.  Essentially, the effect that unbalanced description and exposition can have on the pacing of your story and how to work around this unbalance in a fairly natural way.

We all know what unbalanced description looks like.  When every character is introduced with a paragraph of lovingly written description, from top to bottom and every bit of clothing, that is unbalanced.  When every intricacy of the environment is laid out, that is unbalanced.  When every action is laden with adverbs and adjectives, no matter how minor, that is unbalanced.

I’ve heard it said that the more senses you can engage with the reader, the more memorable your writing becomes.  I don’t deny this, but it has to come in a natural balance.  Trying to engage too many senses at once or simply giving in to purple prose causes the kind of unbalanced text blocks I talk about above.  The detrimental effect this can have on your plot, especially the pacing of it, is obvious.  Try swallowing huge chunks of mozzarella cheese between every bite of your pizza.  The effect is similar, I promise you!

Worse yet, unbalanced description is not very natural when it comes to how we perceive the real world.  When you meet someone for the first time, especially in passing, do you really pay that much attention to them?  The human mind loves to generalize and categorize things to deal with the amazing breadth of input our sense provide.  On first sight, most things in our environment are categorized and then put into a box, then otherwise ignored until we force ourselves to focus on them.

That’s why unusual things draw our attention so easily.  They don’t fit in a predetermined category and our brain sends the signals that we need to focus on this thing closely.  Even on things that we focus on, data doesn’t just come in like a computer readout.  Different people focus on different aspects of people and objects.  Not every detail is immediately apparent or important.  On top of that, the situation the observer is in dictates a lot about where his/her focus will be.  A character in a dangerous action sequence will have far different priorities and focus than one sitting at a bar, for example.

You can use this naturalistic approach to description and observation to balance out your descriptions.  As we naturally pick up details over time as focus and perception change, you can likewise parcel out description over a scene instead of clumping it all up in one paragraph.  Consider what a character’s focus might be and use that to describe the most important details at the time, bringing the rest out as they come to the fore.

You can even use this technique to add to your characterization efforts.  What a particular character sees first in another can be a clue as to their priorities, background, and knowledge.  How a character sees their world can be as insightful as how they interact with it.

So, how do you handle description?  Do you have any tips or tricks for writers and readers alike?  Discuss below!

Until Friday, good luck, good reading, and good writing!

Plot and Motivation: Exposition in Motion a.k.a. Smoothing the Info Dump

My apologies for the quietude around these parts for the last few days!  There is a lot in the works for me at the moment.  Incorruptible is back from the editor’s so the last revisions and changes need to be made, I am still waist-deep in The Twelfth Labor‘s first draft, I have more content to write for Doppel, and there’s plenty of books to devour to try to catch up during my request hiatus.

Still, that won’t keep me from putting my hunger-addled mind to musing about more writing topics.  Today’s Plot and Motivation is going to tackle an approach to exposition that might help keep the Info Dump blues away.  So roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work!

Now, it is very easy to want to info dump.  Especially if you’re working in a genre or world that is radically different from the real world, a writer can feel tremendous pressure to get the reader up to speed.  After all, the plot is waiting and the readers need essential information to understand it, right?  Best to get all this exposition out of the way as soon as possible and be done with it.

The thing is that excessive exposition ruins your pacing, shooting dramatic tension in the head before it even has a chance to build.  It doesn’t matter where in the story you put an info dump, it almost always has this effect.  So how can you get your information across without leading to large blocks of explanations?

The first vital step is figuring out what exactly your reader *really needs* to know.  You would be surprised, perhaps, how little that can turn out to be.  Again, it is all about giving the reader the benefit of the doubt that they are smart enough to pick up on inferrence and foreshadowing.  You can get a lot across without directly saying every little fact.

Once you have distilled down the information to the bare essentials of what the reader needs, you can then distribute it into your plot.  The point is not to dole out all vital information in one sitting but to instead weave those facts into the flow of the scenes.  That isn’t to say you can’t bring up a factoid before it becomes vital.  If you do that, it will make new revelations seem more and more like sudden writing inventions as opposed to planned parts of the story.

However, you can usually find a way to bring up facts and exposition in a more staggered manner than in one solid dump.  It can certainly take time and several revisions to get it to where it needs to be, nuanced but not mystifying, but it’s well worth the work to do so.

Planning a staggered exposition like this not only helps to preserve pacing, it can also be used to heighten intrigue, raise reader interest in the story, and cause your readers to be more invested.  It becomes obvious to them early on that there are more facts, more history, more insights hidden throughout the book instead of being bored with all the need to know all at once.  They will want to dig deeper and continue to find out those facts, seeing if each new answer matches their own expectations drawn from the foreshadowing.  That reader engagement will do wonders for the enjoyment of your book.

This isn’t even the only way to tackle this problem.  What other avenues do you use to work in exposition in your writing?  Feel free to share with us below!

Until next time, good luck and good writing!

Writing is a Bad Habit: As You Know, We Talk About Writing Here

Exposition and world-building can be difficult things to work with as an author.  You, the creator, have all of these ideas, fascinating characters, and magnificent vistas locked in your brain and you want so desperately to share them with your reader.  In today’s Writing is a Bad Habit, we take a look at some pitfalls you can run into as you lay out characterization, world-building, and exposition.

The problem with laying out a world for the reader to discover is balancing the need to explain facts about the world and how it works with the overall pacing and dramatic tension.  The biggest mistakes that we as writers tend to make in regards to this almost all relate back to this core balance.  Most often, we tend to shove that balance off into the side of explanation over pacing, leading to sections of the book that read more like textbooks than entertaining works of fiction.

One of the most common of these mistakes is commonly called the ‘As You Know’ trope (AYK for short).  It takes the simple form of one character informing another character of certain facts and information which the other character *already knows*.  This info dump almost always begins with the exact words of ‘As you know …’, hence the trope’s name.  While I have seen this happen in normal human dialogue from time to time, it’s not very common.  More importantly, it is a very transparent attempt to make a large block of ‘telling’ look like it is ‘showing’ instead.  It rarely works and it isn’t uncommon for a reader to want to skip past what they know is going to be pages of incoming blah.  AYK is a mistake for the reason that ‘telling’ is a mistake: it takes the reader out of their immersion and sets them up with a textbook.

Another mistake common in exposition is the Informed Attribute.  I’ve touched on this in a few other articles about characters and characterization, but it is also tied into exposition as well.  It is, again, the simple act of having a character *tell* another character about a personality trait, skill, or some other quality of a third character without actual characterization to confirm or deny the ‘tell’.  That last part is important, because while it may be a little annoying for a character to repeat something that is obvious by the characterization, it’s far far worse when the character’s actions do not match what they are told to the reader to be.  Informed Attributes are usually used by a writer to attempt to make the reader attach certain attributes to the character without taking the time to show them, which usually works horribly.

Probably the ur-mistake of exposition is the straight-up, old-fashioned Info Dump.  Most often done directly by the author himself in a third person piece, though occasionally dressed up by coming out of the mouth of another character, this is as it sounds: a straight, no-interaction, no-action-period block of information being dropped on the reader.  It is usually hidden behind a wise teacher or native or some other mouthpiece giving all this information to the protagonist, but sometimes it’s just …. there.  It is the ultimate expression of ‘telling, not showing’.

When you look at these, you might wonder for a moment why this matters so much?  After all, if the reader doesn’t have the right information to process the plot and the world the characters inhabit, doesn’t that mean they will be lost?

Of course.  But there are ways to interject exposition while remaining the pacing of the plot and through ‘showing, not telling’.  Oh, sure, there will always be bits of telling here and there, but it has to be handled in a natural, realistic fashion.  More importantly, though, you want most of your characterization and world-building to be shown through the interactions of the characters in their world.  Let context, dialogue, and description paint the pictures.  Give your readers the due credit of not needing everything spoon-fed to them.  If you do your best to follow this path, the few times you DO need to tell them things directly are far more likely to be forgiven.