Expositions are awful. It’s a small part of the beginning of your story where you need to introduce your characters, explain the setting, and backstory, and all while doing this keep your readers interested. Most writers will tell you to avoid the exposition and prologue at all costs.
But I’m here to tell you that there is no reason to skip the exposition! Just as long as you know how to write it.
The first rule of writing an exposition is to never explain more than the reader needs to know. I know this is hard because you just built this fantastic world with such a rich history and your character has a great backstory but, your reader doesn’t need to know all that. All they need to know is,
- The setting.
- The characters.
- The information they need to get through the first chapter
The most successful prologues are the ones that are written like any other chapter in the story. They are not used as info dumps, rather a glimpse into a past event to give the reader more insight into what’s going on. This can help with giving the reader a look at the conflict before your protagonist is in the middle of it. Do you catch my drift?
Just like Harry Potter and the Goblet of fire opens up with telling us a little about the Riddle family.
But are there other ways to inform your reader? Let’s look at an example from the Disney movie, Wreck-it Ralph.
“My name’s Ralph and I’m a bad guy. Ah… Let’s see I’m 9 feet tall. I weigh 643 pounds. Got a little bit of a temper on me. My passion bubbles very near the surface, I guess, I’m not gonna lie. Anywho, what else? Uh… I’m a wrecker. I wreck things. Professionally. I mean, I’m very good at what I do. Probably the best I know. The thing is, fixing is the name of the came. Literally, “Fix-It Felix, Jr”. So, yeah, naturally the guy with the name Fix-it Felix is the good guy. He’s nice enough as good guys go. Definitely fixes stuff really well. But, uh, if you got a magic hammer from your father, how hard can it be? If he was a regular contractor, carpenter guy, I guarantee you would not be able to fix the damage that I do, as quickly. And when Felix does a good job, he gets a medal. But are there medals for wrecking stuff really well? To that I say, “HAAH!”. And, no, there aren’t.
“30 years I’ve been doing this and I’ve seen a lot of other games come and go. Kinda sad. I think about all those guys from Asteroids? Boom! …Gone. Centipede? Who knows where that guy is. You know? Look, a steady arcade gig is nothing to sneeze at. I’m very lucky. It’s just… I gotta say, it becomes kinda hard to love your job when no one seems to like you for doing it.”
This is the opening scene for Wreck-it Ralph, and it is FANTASTIC for many reasons. It establishes all three necessary factors right away.
First of all, the character is telling us about him and his world. We become very interested right away because Ralph is from an arcade game. Not our world. There’s the setting right there.
Wreck-it Ralph isn’t told in the first person, naturally. But we learn a lot about Ralph not only by what he’s telling us but in the way he talks. It shows us a lot about his character and personality. He says ‘uh’ and ‘um’ a lot, as well as ‘kinda’ and ‘gotta’. This sparks a love for this character right out of the gate. And we also get a first look at his internal conflict: “It’s kinda hard to love your job when no one seems to like you for doing it.”
It establishes the character right away!
Ralph also gives us enough information about his game to understand the rest of the scene (or chapter, in our situation). We learn that Ralph is the bad guy and his job is wrecking things. Felix, the good guy, has a magic hammer he uses to fix the damage Ralph makes. However, we hear nothing about the history of the game because we do not need that information to get through the next few scenes.
Another great thing about this opening is that it starts with Ralph telling us about himself, but then we find out that he is explaining this to his ‘bad-guy support group’. Which is so unusual and interesting, we want to see what happens next.
If you are going to follow along with this method I recommend keeping it short.
Your reader will have the attention span of a toddler.
Always keep your exposition short and entertaining. And because I love using examples, here is the opening from Rick Riordan’s Bestselling novel, Percy Jackson.
“My name is Percy Jackson. I’m Twelve years old. Until a few months ago I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York. Am I a troubled kid? Yeah, you could say that.”
This sets the stage for the book. It tells us about the main character and the setting for the first chapter. This is short and interesting so we are eager to read on.
- Never explain more than the reader needs to know. Characters, setting, and any information your reader will need to get through the first chapter.
- Your reader will have the attention span of a toddler. Keep it short and entertaining.
- You can use the exposition to give your readers insight on the conflict before the protagonist knows himself. This is not necessary for most novels but It’s the best way to hide your villain from your protagonist but not your reader.
- Get creative! There are so many ways to write an exposition! through dialogue, narrative, flashback, etc.
- The exposition can give a glimpse into a past event and give the reader more insight into what’s going on.
Hope you learned a lot from this!
Thanks a bunch!