Avoid exposition (Show, don’t tell!)

Want to slow your story to a glacial grind and get readers to quit reading your story? Then load it with lots of exposition. Problems arising with exposition often (and rightfully) elicit cries of “Show, don’t tell!” from editors.

Exposition is directly conveying information to the reader. For example, you could write, “She found herself falling in love him.” You’ve directly told the reader what is occurring to the main character: she’s falling in love.

A better way to tell that she’s falling in love is to show it. Instead write: “Birray took her in his arms. She nestled her head against his chest as he caressed her back.” That she nestled her head against his chest, in the context of the rest of the story, will show she’s beginning to have stronger than “just friends” feelings for him.

Why avoid exposition? Three good reasons:
• It slows the forward movement of plot – As exposition amounts to straightforward information, some novice writers believe it speeds up the story. In truth, it robs the story of conflict and tension. Showing rather than telling what happens allows the reader to see incrementally how a character is pulled and dragged into feeling a certain way or making a specific decision.
• It amounts to lecturing the reader or forcing him to read an encyclopedia entry – A lot of times exposition is background information that the author deems is important to understanding some concept, such as the history of the Clone Wars, the physics behind hyperdrive, and the ethical dilemmas of using metagenic weapons. It’s better to sprinkle these matters as bits into the characters’ normal conversation rather than give a long lecture.
• It can violate viewpoint – A first-person story suddenly interrupted with an objective, third-person telling of exposition can be jarring to the tale’s flow. At the very least, it is awkward-sounding.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.