Is exposition “old-fashioned”? Why is it hated so much? I personally have no problem with it – enjoy it even – which is probably why it creeps up so much in my writing. Internal monologs that reveal motives and intentions; anecdotes about characters’ past incidents; in-depth explorations of alien societies. Often my favorite parts of books would be those sections that told us things that were not part of the story itself but were part of the world in which the story plays out. And since most of the books I read took place in imaginary realms of science fiction or fantasy, they often relied on such devices.
Descriptive text bores me. I don’t care what color the walls are. I don’t want to read an entire page about the weather. “Show, don’t tell?” What is this, a movie? Even movies lately suffer from an overabundance of showing without telling, as filmmakers imitate Ridley Scott and treat their films as paintings that need no explanation. I’m sorry, but a story is not a painting. A painting may speak a thousand words, but the words are different for each viewer. A story – and movies are stories just as much as books are – should show things in a definitive manner, not just leave it to the viewer to interpret what he or she wants. That is not how you tell a story. That may work for music videos, but not for narrative fiction.
Back to exposition. I had heard so many complaints against expository writing that I’m constantly paranoid and forced to second-guess my own writing because of my predilection to incorporate exposition on a regular basis. And yet as I read older books – and yes, I do still find myself often reading books from the early half of the twentieth century – I am made very much aware of all the exposition involved. How can teachers rail against such writing and then include classics on their students’ “summer reading lists” that are perfect examples of them?
“Like what?” you ask. Well, I had never read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school, opting instead to read Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. I had recently become curious about the other classic that I had neglected, and so I requested it from my library. Eighty pages in, and it dawned on me. Hardly anything has happened so far, and most of the book is exposition. I’m not complaining! It is exactly the type of situation that calls for it. How else can you plumb the depths of a fanciful society that exists only in the author’s imagination than through constant asides and historical footnotes about fictional events that make up the backstory of its world?
I am beginning to come to the conclusion that teachers – and readers as well – who complain so much about exposition do not readily read fanciful fiction and instead prefer reading stories that take place in more reality-inspired settings (what to me would be “the boring real world”). Not that I do not occasionally read books of that nature. I have enjoyed Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and (another high school reading list classic) Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline. And I am a huge fan of Ian Fleming’s series of 007 adventures. But rarely do I place my own stories in such a “normal” realm.
Is my writing in an “old-fashioned” style? Does that make it outdated, or just different? I could accept the latter, especially since it is the secret goal of all writers to have their work stand out from the masses. As I struggle to stay true to my vision of how my stories should be, I pray that my audience will also share my taste for the anecdotal text that works to enhance the setting while it attempts to complement the narrative storyline. It is my hope that I am not alone in this appreciation of a style that seems to have worked so well for authors in the past who are universally revered as literary geniuses. I’m not looking to be counted among them; I simply don’t want to be ostracized for not playing by modern rules.