1. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Summary versus exposition

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fitzroy Zeph, Jan 31, 2014.

    These two terms throw me. I see the words everywhere yet I can't seem to pin down a proper meaning in my head of what each actually refers to. Is there a simple definition for each?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think of those two things as having a "versus" relationship; I think that at times the same chunk of writing could be described as both exposition and summary.

    I do see a "versus" relationship between narrative summary and what I suppose I'd call "scene", though I feel that there's a better word that's eluding me. Is there any chance that's what you're after?

    If you imagine a movie, and you imagine the movie showing two characters having a fight--the words they exchange, the raised voices, the arm-waving--that's a scene.

    If, instead, the voiceover said, "Jane and John had a serious argument, and didn't speak again for a month." I'd call that narrative summary.

    The same would be true in a book. To offer a tiny example:

    Scene:
    Jane looked up. "Hey. You want some cake?"
    John shrugged and leaned on the counter. "Sure. So how's business?"
    Jane shrugged as she cut a slice. "Not bad for a Wednesday"

    Summary:
    Jane offered John a slice of cake, and they discussed events at the restaurant.
     
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  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'exposition' is what's often referred to as an 'info dump'... it explains things in your short story or novel that you think need to be explained for the reader to understand what's going on in the story... and it's all too often boring and unnecessary, as the info can be doled out in smaller pieces in narrative and/or dialogue...

    a 'summary' is what you would put in a query letter... it's a mini version of a synopsis...

    i don't see the two terms as being a 'vs' issue...
     
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  4. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak Versus is the wrong word here, thanks.

    Where does backstory lie then? Can it both narrative summary and exposition depending on context?
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2014
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Backstory is usually a bad idea. :) At least, when it's explained in a chunk of text whose primary or entire purpose is to explain backstory. But, yes, I'd say that it can be both narrative summary and exposition. Well, though my mind quibbles about whether "narrative summary" can apply to events that begin before the story. Hmm.
     
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  6. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Exposition is you, the author talking. And as long as you are, nothing is going on in the story. At times that may be necessary. For example, between one scene and another things may happen that the reader needs to know, but there's no entertainment value so you summarize via exposition and rubber-band time.

    Backstory is exposition, and a summery.

    Here's the thing: The reader comes to us to experience the story in real-time, and in the viewpoint of the protagonist. They want to know the situation as the protagonist does so they can react, themselves, as the protagonist. Readers don't want to hear what James Bond is doing, they want to live his life for themselves. In other words, they're borrowing our imagination to play a grown up game of Let's Pretend.

    So, every time you explain anything as the author you're using exposition, and probably summarizing. And when you are, you're informing, not entertaining, so keep it to the absolute minimum, and do it only when it's absolutely necessary.
     
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  7. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    @JayG and @ChickenFreak Thanks, I'm just trying to nail down the nomenclature so when I see terms like exposition, I don't think of world fairs or such. I understand the need to use this sort of story telling judiciously, but I find the terminology confusing when reading about it in those dreadful how-to books. :p
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Definitions are a bit fuzzy. I don't have a high opinion of the bulk transfer of background information, but to me, exposition is the appropriate term for any introduction of relevant information to the reader, including the subtle peppering of that transfer into the story in widely separated tidbits.
     
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  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, it does apply to any info... and though i see it all too often in new writers' work, exposition doesn't have to be done as an info dump, can be doled out in bits, as i noted above...
     
  10. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unfortunately I have an analytical brain that wants to see order. You couldn't tell this by the state of my workshop, but in cases of analysis, I like to see all things defined before I forget about them -- or if I'm lucky, store them for later use. Thanks for the explanations.
     

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