Last Updated on July 20, 2022 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD
The exposition of a story is an important narrative device that has been used by authors for centuries. In this article, we’ll explore 15 different examples and tips on using exposition effectively!
What is an exposition in a story?
Exposition can be defined as the act or process of explaining, describing, or presenting to an audience what is not known about something.
Expositions should be written in such a way that they do not disrupt the flow of the story itself; instead, the author should weave it into their own words so that readers will understand what’s happening without being told explicitly.
What are the types of expositions?
Expositions are typically divided into explicit exposition, implicit exposition, and dramatic exposition.
1. Explicit exposition
This is seen when the author provides information to the reader directly, which can be done through dialogue, action, or narrator commentary.
An example of explicit exposition can be found in the following passage from “The Great Gatsby,” a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“Among the people of the state of New York, there are more millionaires per capita than in any other part of the United States.” – This is an example where information about something (in this case, types of characters) have been provided to readers directly through a narrator commentary.
Expositions delivered through dialogues and actions can be effective in helping readers to understand the events of a story more clearly, as these types of exposition tend to help us visualize what is happening better than if it were done solely through narration or description. Exposition delivered via dialogue and action may also feel less intrusive because it is embedded in the natural flow of the story.
2. Implicit exposition
This is when an author provides information to the reader indirectly. This can be done in three ways:
- Through narration and description, story events are described by a narrator or through characters’ actions (for example, we might witness two people getting married).
- One character narrates another’s thoughts to other characters or readers (internal monologue).
- By revealing information about the story world (for example, a character might remark that it is snowing outside).
Implicit exposition allows readers to slowly piece together the events of a story through inference and deduction. This can be an effective way for authors to withhold certain information until later in the story, as readers will be more likely to remember information that has been revealed implicitly instead of explicitly.
However, authors need to be careful not to reveal too much information through implicit exposition, as this can disrupt the pacing and tension.
3. Dramatic exposition
This occurs when the events of a story are presented through the dialogue and actions of the characters, but in such a way that readers cannot understand what is happening.
- A character might be speaking about another character, and we don’t know who they’re referring to until it’s revealed later in the story (also known as foreshadowing).
- Two characters may talk about something that we don’t know what they’re talking about until it is revealed later (for example, one character might say, “It’s not the same without John,” but readers do not yet understand who this person called ‘John’ is).
- A line of dialogues may be delivered with a sense of urgency and panic; as readers, we are aware that something is wrong but might not understand what it is until the scene has been completed.
The use of dramatic exposition can be an effective way for authors to create a sense of mystery and tension in their stories. Readers will want to know more about why characters behave or talk in this manner. There can also be instances where dramatic exposition can be used to comic effect, as readers are often amused by the sense of confusion and chaos that it creates.
Exposition of a Story: 15 Examples from Literature
Below are 15 different Exposition examples that you can use when you write short stories.
Example #01: Introducing the setting and characters
In order to set the stage for his story, James Baldwin begins by introducing the main characters and describing their surroundings. This allows readers to get a feel for what’s happening before any action actually takes place.
“The country house where the boy lives with his mother is a very small, old two-story building. The windows are square and have wooden shutters which can be opened on hot summer days to let in air.
Example #02: Presenting an event that triggers the story’s events
In this example from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, readers learn that a character called Mr. Antolini is in danger of losing his job because he has been drinking while attending to patients at an asylum where John (the main character) lives.
“He looks awful like somebody just punched him right between the eyes.”
Example #03: Describing a character’s thoughts and feelings
In this excerpt from Maya Angelou‘s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, readers are given insight into the mind of Marguerite (who is later nicknamed ‘Maya’) as she reflects on her family life.
“I thought my father was a wonderful person. He had an easy manner, spoke well, and listened to others. He was always smiling and laughing.”
Example #04: Introducing the main character’s backstory via dialogue
The use of dramatic exposition can be an effective way for authors to create a sense of mystery as readers will want to know more about why characters are behaving or talking in this manner.
In this exposition example from The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden talks to a friend and reveals that he was kicked out of boarding school.
“I got expelled from Elkton Hills… They caught me smoking cigarettes in the lavatory.”
Example #05: Foreshadowing future events
In this excerpt from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus talks to his children and foreshadows the events of a court case that he will be involved in later on.
“I won’t tell you how it ends, but I’ll bet anything that when it’s over, most people would have called it just another Southern rape trial.”
Example #06: Revealing character traits via dialogue
In this excerpt from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, we are introduced to the character of Jay Gatsby and learn about his past via a conversation with Nick Carraway.
“He came into my apartment one night very late… I was astonished. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, and I think it was the first time I had ever seen a canary-colored polo shirt.”
Example #07: Explaining character motivations by providing background information about their pasts and/or personalities
In this example from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, readers learn that someone called The Marquis de Carabas is motivated to help Richard Mayhew because of his past.
“I should have killed that man, but I didn’t… You see, it’s a question of honor.”
Example #08: Describing physical appearance in detail to set the scene for later actions and/or events
In this example from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the author takes the time to describe Dracula’s appearance in detail so that readers will have a clear image of him in their minds.
“His face was… aquiline, with a curved nose and high-arched eyebrows. His lips were thin and drawn back over his teeth, which were white and sharp.”
Example #09: Introducing the setting and describing the surrounding environment
One of the most common ways for authors to introduce readers to a story is by providing information about the setting and surroundings. This can be done through exposition via dialogue, action, or narration.
In this example of exposition from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Holden walks home from a meeting and provides readers with a description of his surroundings.
“I was walking down Park Avenue, and I saw this bum… He had on a green army overcoat that came down to his ankles.”
Example #10: Showing the aftermath of an event to provide context for later actions or events
In this example from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, readers have described the aftermath of a plane crash through exposition.
“He saw that there was nothing he could do to save anybody… The man had been decapitated.”
Example #11: Revealing character reactions and emotions via dialogue or narration
One way for authors to reveal character emotions is by exposing their thoughts and feelings, which can be done through direct dialogue or narration.
In this example from Harper Lee’s To Kill, a Mockingbird, Scout provides readers with information about her father’s reaction to a court case.
“My daddy… he was the most … He didn’t have an inkling what he was up against.”
Example #12: Explaining the motivations behind character actions and/or behaviors via narration or exposition.
In this excerpt from J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, readers are described as Bilbo Baggins’ motivation to steal something that belongs to Smaug for him (Bilbo) to be considered a hero.
“He wanted adventure, and he got it.”
Example #13: Introducing a character into a story as they are performing an action
In this exposition example from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, the reader is introduced to the character of Patrick Bateman as he is murdering a man.
“I had to kill him. He was blackmailing me.”
Example #14: Introducing a minor character who will play a significant role in the story later on
In this example from J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, readers are introduced to Severus Snape as he observes other students in a Hogwarts classroom.
“The Potions master was watching him like a hawk.”
Example #15: Exposing a character’s fears or ambitions
In this example from E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, readers are given a glimpse into Christian’s fears and ambitions.
“I want you to trust me.”
How do you write an exposition in a story? 7 Expert Tips
Now that you have a better understanding of what exposition is and some examples of it in action, here are seven expert tips for writing effective exposition in your own stories:
Tip #01: Make sure your exposition serves a purpose
When including exposition in your story, make sure that it serves a specific purpose. Exposition should never be used just for the sake of providing information to readers. It should move the plot forward or reveal important character information that will be relevant later on in the story.
Tip #02: Don’t info dump your readers
When providing exposition, don’t dump all of the information on readers at once. Spread it out over time and space to make it easier for them to process. If you overload your readers with too much information, they will become overwhelmed and lost.
Tip #03: Use dialogue to convey exposition
One of the best ways to provide exposition is through dialogue between characters. This allows you to reveal information in a natural way that doesn’t feel forced or unnatural.
Tip #04: Show, don’t tell
When it comes to exposition, revealing information through actions and dialogue is more effective than simply telling your readers what they need to know.
Tip #05: Use a combination of narration and exposition
Sometimes direct dialogue or action can cause an interruption in the flow of a story. In this case, you should mix up how you provide that exposition by including both narration and spoken words from the characters. This will keep things consistent throughout your story without interrupting the pace too often.
Tip #06: Keep description simple
Providing rich descriptions when describing events or settings is important for creating vivid imagery in stories. However, if done incorrectly (i.e., long-winded), then descriptions can weigh down on expositions and slow down the pacing of your story.
Tip #07: Use flashbacks and dream sequences sparingly
While flashbacks and dream sequences can be a great way to reveal important information to readers, they should be used sparingly. If you include too many of them, it will disrupt the flow of your story and confuse readers. Are you looking for more tips on writing effective exposition in your stories? Check out this article from The Write Practice: How To Write Exposition That Moves Your Story Forward. It provides even more expert advice to help you write a smoother, more effective exposition in your own tales.
Have you ever had to write the exposition for a story? Which of these tips did you find most helpful for providing expositions that move the plot forward and reveal important character information without bogging down your readers with excess detail or dialogue? Do you have any favorite examples of exposition in stories? Please share them in the comments below!
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