Thoughts on Exposition in Creative Writing

“Where questions of style and exposition are concerned I try to follow a simple maxim: if you can’t say it clearly you don’t understand it yourself.” John Searle

John stirred the pot of fragrant bubbling chili adding a dash more cocoa powder  and a pinch of his secret weapon. The secret weapon, that he brought home from Bangladesh, would surely help him win the Hot as Hades Valentine’s Day Chili Fest, dark and rich it was a combination of twelve different chilies including the hottest chili in the world, the ghost pepper, Bhut Jolokia. The ghost chili pepper had won the contest for John’s arch rival, Mark Saunders, in the Chili Fest last year, but this year John was sure he would take the golden chili cauldron home as he spent six months in Bangladesh researching the pepper’s intensity and working with different blends until he was confident that the Hot as Hades cauldron would accompany him home. Mark Saunders wouldn’t make the front page of the paper this year! John thought and then wondered if he had let the paper subscription expire. Money was tight and the local paper was an easy item to drop from his budget.

John pictured how the trophy would look in his recently renovated kitchen. Sure his wife, Madeline, had left him because he spent six months in Bangladesh and then spent his inheritance on a new kitchen but John was sure that once the golden cauldron was back in its rightful place that his luck would turn around. John was surprised as everyone else was when his Great Aunt Marilee left him $35,000 because John was thought to be her least favorite nephew. But John and Great Aunt Marilee both loved cooking and when John expressed his distress to Great Aunt Marilee in his outdated 1970’s kitchen over shortbread cookies and Earl Gray tea one Sunday afternoon, Great Aunt Marilee went home, called her lawyer and made the change to her will, on the condition that John would only use the money on a kitchen renovation. John wondered if it was the vanilla bean in the shortbread cookies that made her leave the money to him. Thinking of the vanilla bean, John reached into the cabinet, pulled a vanilla bean from the thin glass tube and taking a sharp knife scraped the aromatic pod into the chili. “The Madagascar beans are the best,” John said out loud to the new kitchen and his new cat, Kenny, who he rescued just a few weeks earlier. Kenny jumped on the kitchen table and meowed loudly. Kenny was a Russian Blue cat who loved to jump on the kitchen table and meow loudly.

I wrote this sample piece to illustrate how beginning writers often give too much unnecessary information to the reader. What should come out naturally in dialogue and throughout the story is often given to the reader in large paragraphs of exposition.

In my story Great Aunt Marilee, the renovated kitchen, John’s divorce and the amount of the inheritance aren’t essential information to the story.  The vanilla bean may or may not be the winning secret chili ingredient but does the reader need to know everything right away? While adding background to the story is important watch how repetitive you might be writing and ask yourself if you could work in the information into the story another way. Although my story is a much exaggerated case of too much exposition look into your fiction pieces and see if you are unknowingly using exposition instead of writing tight and clean and using dialogue effectively to let your reader into the story. Now get back to work!

The Writing Nag

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