1. Kalleth Bright-Talon
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    Kalleth Bright-Talon Member

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    Exposition Through Dialogue; Opinions?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Kalleth Bright-Talon, Nov 8, 2015.

    So getting into draft #2. I reread my first draft and realize that along with book 1, the worldbuilding is...egh. I have this vivid and amazing world to play around with in my head. Now it's just a matter of putting it on paper. I've seen books that set the scene with exposition surrounding locations, and I've seen books that leave most of the explaining to the characters. I was just wondering if you folks had any particular preference for either camp.

    For context, the era is High Middle Ages with fantasy elements, and a slightly more technologically advanced civilization than the real world historical people had. Because I want carriages and oil lamps dammit! Even though "technically" those were Late Middle Ages/Renaissance technology. Oh yeah, fantasy stuff; Gigantic crystalline castles, autumn-coloured coniferous forests, obsidian hell fortresses, oh and a desert covered in shards of shattered sword blades. Now beyond these and including them, are a lot of legends and stories about how they came to be the way they are. So back to my original question, should a narrator describe the exposition or should characters do the talking? Or do you have a different opinion?
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think a combination is usually best - have a character say something, use a bit of narrative to add detail, etc.

    All one or all the other seems to be unnecessarily limiting.
     
  3. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    If you are going on the whole "journey" thing for fantasy, use both - it is natural that way with normally opinionated characters who are not alone. Dialogue is a natural way to express interest and build characters, but people generally do not muse about the quaintness of their own homes to its other occupants.
     
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  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Inks on this one. Use it when it naturally gets referenced in conversations but don't go out of your way to create specific dialogues.
     
  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I might sound like I am repeating myself from another of your threads but I think the concept applies well here.

    Which is well. I don't think how matters that much. Yes, there is moments where one is superior than the other, and as others have touched upon, both is likely the way to go. Mixing it up and all.

    My advice is that good exposition is not how it is delivered but when. Too soon and there is no mystery, it becomes a classroom and is boring. Too late and I may never reach it or am frustrated.

    The real best way, it to give it to us the moment we crave it. Because then, we aren't going to be so much caring how it got to us, but that it did.

    Though, to be clear. That doesn't mean narration or dialoque should be ignored. Surely there is going to be times when doing it as a joke in dialogue has a lot more much to it, and other times when the break from the dialogue into some exposition narrative is welcomed but these are all case by case.

    The real kicker to me is this. Well the reader pause at the exposition scene and go. "Yes! I been waiting for this moment!" or "Ah man, it was getting good and not it is slowing down and explaining things. Geez, get on with it already!"

    Because figuring out when the time is right is a lot harder and more meaningful. Or at least that is what I think. Hope it helps.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that if you're thinking of the dialogue as "exposition", there's likely to be an issue.

    Example of bad dialogue-as-exposition:

    Horace asked, "What's going on?"

    Joe said, "As you know, Horace, my childhood friend, the Imperial Gleaners, who wear distinctive red coats, often seize goods from merchants based on false government claims of necessity. That happened here, in my father's feed and harness shop, this windy and snowy winter afternoon."


    Example of some improvement:

    Horace tromped in, glaring at the snow on his boots. "Weather's getting worse. Only a matter of time before the bridge is..." His voice trailed off as he surveyed the empty shelves. "Big sale?"

    "Very funny." Joe leaned the broom against the wall. "Redcoats. By sheer coincidence, our required contribution was just what we had in the store. Actually, it was a little more, but they decided to give us a waiver for the rest. Wasn't that kind of them?"

    "I thought your dad had connections?"

    "That's what got us the waiver."
     
  7. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Some improvement? Gosh. Hate to see what is "passable" by your standards or better yet "good". :superlaugh:
     
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  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What @BayView said... Combine different techniques to show the world. Irl, we tend to talk about current issues, so maybe your characters can also talk about the things you want to show, like if there are fantasy elements to the weather or whatever. Just don't use them as conduits to relay information about some awesome fauna you came up with for the sake of that piece of information. It might come across forced and take your reader out of the story.

    Also, keep in mind that you can communicate to the reader only so much about your vivid and amazing world. We will likely see it a lot differently anyway, and you don't want to be that micromanaging author who has to direct everything 'cause that kind of writing can slow down the narration and flow. Resist the urge to explain and give out information that your characters would notice or you consider otherwise pertinent to the scene. In the end, the vividness of your story relies on your readers' imagination. You give them the building materials, but they build the house--and it might not turn out the way you planned, but at least it's going to be in the ball park.
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak - our 'example' genius.... :agreed:
     
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  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically, there are 3 components to any dialogue: the first character, the second character, and the information being shared between the two. Knowing what the information means to each character - why is one character telling it to the other, how does the other react to learning it - is at least as important as the information itself.

    John Scalzi's Old Man's War does this better than anyone else I've seen:

    Chapter 2 exposits both space colonization and a recent nuclear war by having a prospective army recruit complain that his son died in the war against India, and yet India gets special treatment in sending settlers to space while Americans like him can only go as meat-shields for the Indians. The main character points out that nuclear bombing killed millions of people in India and that large areas of the country are uninhabitable, but then the angry guy turns that around and says "Exactly! We won the war! Shouldn't that count for something?" The main character quickly decides he doesn't like this guy.

    The same chapter then exposits the "science" of space elevators by having a retired engineer describe to the MC all of the reasons why the space elevator shouldn't work, then explaining that - since it works anyway - the space colonizing organization must be using advanced alien technology that they haven't shared with Earth scientists. He finally guesses that the space organization's grand gestures like the space elevator serve to protect them from interference by Earth governments: "if you can't figure out how we did this, then you're not capable of picking a fight with us."

    A later chapter has a commanding officer showing the new recruits a slideshow of some of the species that they've met beyond the Solar System. The commander starts with a crustacean species that the MC reacts to as something out of a horror movie, then goes on to an anthropomorphic elk-like species that the MC associates with the wisdom of a mythical nature-spirit. The commander then explains that the crustacean species has produced some of the greatest artisans and mathematicians that humanity has ever seen, while a tribe of the elk species murdered an entire human settlement in the most sadistic ways imaginable. "If you don't get you stupid anthropocentric biases out of your head now, then you are going to get people killed."
     
  11. NathalieDelRey
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    NathalieDelRey New Member

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    I much prefer being able to imagine most of a fantastical realm myself, so I can put my own spin on what I see. For example think about what is non negotiable for the reader, if you know that a character has to have blonde hair because it will be important later then get that across, but if it doesn't matter then let me imagine the character's appearance myself. Tolkien, in my opinion, doesn't let the reader imagine enough of Middle Earth, although his descriptions are beautiful.
     
  12. Burnistine
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    Burnistine Active Member

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    It depends on several things: what stage you are in--1st draft, final copy; is your draft top-heavy with narrative; does it lack dialogue. You have to decide.

    Though exposition through dialogue can move your novel at a faster pace, it can also make your novel much longer. You'll have to decide what's your aim.

    For example, my family saga that I'm working on, is top-heavy with narrative in chapter 1. Long narratives in family sagas is the nature of the genre. Someone was bothered by that and suggested that I use exposition through dialogue. In my efforts to pare down the narrative and add exposition through dialogue, I quickly realized that my first chapter would be huge. For me, this method would not work in this particular novel.

    So, the long and short of it is that you'll need to determine your final aim. Then you'll have decide what works best for you.

    Hope I helped.
     

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