4 Exposition Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Jackie Pearce
June 19, 2023 | 6 mins

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A lot of writers make some exposition mistakes which can turn away readers and in turn not convince enough readers to buy their books.

Getting the beginning of your book right matters when it comes to hooking readers right off the bat. This includes everything from a captivating title (you can use a book title generator for that!), to a strong opening sentence, to – yes – the exposition.

Authors will have a constant battle of trying to give readers enough context to be interested in the story, but not give too many details where it takes a long time to get through the beginning and into the story.

For the most part, modern readers prefer to dive right into the plot instead of spending chapters meeting all the characters and setting the scene. Books in the past would spend much longer on exposition than in today's modern world.

So, are you ready to get some tips to get your exposition right and improve your writing? Let's dive into some things you need to avoid in your upcoming book.

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What Is Exposition?

Narrative exposition is the insertion of background information within a story or narrative. This information can be about the setting, characters' backstories, prior plot events, historical context, etc. In literature, exposition appears in the form of expository writing embedded within the narrative.

From Wikipedia

Essentially, the exposition is the beginning of a book. For some books, it can go on for a long, long time.

Older books are more known for their longer exposition techniques than current books because modern readers love to be thrown more into the story than to get a ton of chapters on the background of everything.

Do not get us wrong, exposition is essential and still an important part of any book, but you want to make sure you are only giving readers the essentials so you can bring them right into the story.

Why Do Authors Use Exposition

Exposition is important because it sets the foundation for the entire book's story arc moving forward.

It gives the readers an understanding of the characters, the story, and the overall plot so they can understand the foundations before being thrown right into the main storyline.

You will even see this technique used in movies where the director needs to set the tone and overall feel for the rest of the movie moving forward. Not only in movies, but you will see exposition in plays, comics, short stories, and other forms of entertainment.

With so many book genres out there, exposition can help the reader understand what is happening more than the synopsis can or anything else.

For example, you would open a romance book differently than you would open a horror book, and that can prime the reader for the story they are about to experience.

What Are Exposition Mistakes

Now that you know what exposition means, you might be wondering what the common mistakes are that authors make with theirs.

Here are just a few that are incredibly common but need to be avoided as much as possible in your writing.

#1 – Too much backstory

While you need to give your readers some context of the story and the characters ahead, there is a fine line between a decent amount and too much backstory.

Your readers do not need chapters and chapters of endless background information to get them up to date before you throw them into the actual plot of the story.

To combat this, take the time to think about only the essential things a reader would need to know in order to understand a character.

#2 – Endless world building

If you are creating a whole new world in your novel (think: something like Star Wars), you will have to spend more time than other people to explain the world. But the key is to give them enough information for them to form a fantasy world map in their minds – without getting too into the weeds.

You can also show readers the world while having your characters already in the plot and interacting with the world around them. It will be like taking your readers on a new adventure. By doing this, you can move the plot forward and make sure they understand the world you've created.

#3 – Not using exposition as an enhancement

A lot of writers are stuck in using exposition as something they have to explain and get through to get to the plot. Instead, you can intertwine exposition and story to move the book along.

You can use exposition in things like dialogue or how the different types of characters in your story interact with each other and the world around them. You do not necessarily need to sit there and go on for pages and pages about your particular characters and setting.

#4 – Not getting enough feedback

If you are unsure if you have too much exposition, you may need to hire a book editor that has experience working with the specific type of book genre you write. Or you could simply ask some test readers to read your book and tell you how they feel about it.

Is it the right length? Too long? Not long enough? That will help tell you everything you need to know.

Examples of Great Exposition

A good idea to get a feel for exposition is to read other books in your genre and see how other related authors do their exposition.

It is an excellent idea to draw inspiration from books that have interesting exposition. For example, read through what Shirley Jackson used in the opening of her book, The Haunting:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors very sensibly shut; silence lay against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Shirley Jackson – The Haunting

What To Do Instead

Challenge yourself to cut out more

First, you must become an editor for yourself. You will want to try and cut out more of your exposition than you think you can. You might think you have already cut out as much as you can, but see if you can spread more of your story throughout your book.

With every single sentence in your exposition ask yourself, “Is this essential to know? Could readers learn about this in another way?”

Try to start with the plot

One great way to jump past exposition is to throw your readers right into the story and then have the pieces start to come together as the story goes on.

You might realize that you will need to go back and add in some exposition to get readers up to date with what is happening, but this can be a fun challenge to see what you can do without it or how you can creatively add it in.

Need More Writing Help?

If you are writing a fiction book, it can be good to have some guidance to make sure you get it all done.

There are a few things you do not want to miss out on and our Fiction Book Outline will help you make sure that you do not miss a single thing in your book writing process.

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