Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 2, Characterization and Exposition by B.Y. Rogers

(Come on, get your own copy, will ya?)

Characterization and Exposition.

Before I start, a few comments. Of all the lessons I have been given along my writing path, the one about exposition was the most profitable. It makes so much sense to me. The trouble is, it is now getting me into trouble. My thinking is evolving to the point that I detest conversational exposition. My mind keeps seeing Jack Webb sternly stating “Just the facts, Ma’am”. (IF and when my wife reads this, I will be sleeping downstairs for awhile.)

Anyway, I cannot preach exposition enough. So pay attention. You will know when you have it right when you can quit your day job. I still do not have it right. Otherwise I would not be up at midnight writing.

My thoughts are in parenthesis.

(The chapter starts out with a few, very dull paragraphs about Eloise.) After reading the these paragraphs, you know something about-possibly something very important-about Eloise. But do you care? (I didn’t.)

In fact, the show and tell principles underlies many of the self-editing points we will talk about from now on. But there’s a second problem here: the writer introduces Eliose to h is readers all at once and in depth-stopping the story cold for an overview of her character. (Next time you are reading a book and you come up short, as if you have been jerked out of the story and back to your reality, stop and ask yourself why. Then take a look at what you have just read. Very telling.)

It is often a good idea to introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her.As with describing your settings, all you need are a few concrete idiomatic details to jump start your readers imagination. (I tried to do this in my novel, only giving what is needed but nothing more. I want the character to become the readers character, not mine. Too much detail about physical appearance and the character is mine, not the readers.)

If your characters actually act in the way your summaries say they will, then the summaries are not needed. If they do not, then your summaries are misleading.

When you (completely) sum up your characters, you risk defining them to the point that they’re boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow.

Allow your readers to get to know your characters gradually, each read will interpret them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sens of who your characters are.

Delving into your characters past can be a good way for you to understand the character in the present. But though it may have been helpful for you to write a character’s history, it may not be necessary for your readers to read it. (I like this. In fact, I did not write out a history for any of my characters in The Sin of Certainty. After reading this point, I like it even more. My characters are still alive to me, growing and in a few cases, dying.)

Since you bring your present story to a halt whenever you start a flashback, it doesn’t take too many flashbacks to make your story jerky or hard to follow. (This is taught in Writing to Sell also. Good advice. I used one and only flashback in my novel. I could not find a way around it and the information was pivotal. In fact, without it, the reader will never learn the answer to the mystery. Let the reader learn about the character from the present, not the past.)

If you want to learn who someone is, watch what they say and do. If you want your readers to get a feel who your character really are, show them through dialogue and action. (This is true in life, in a movie, and in a book. And remember, action speaks louder than words.)

The information your readers need in order to follow and appreciate your plot…should be brought out as unobtrusively as possible.

Give your readers only as much background information or history, or characterization as they need at any give time. (I really like this.)

When your characters start talking solely for the sake of informing your readers, the exposition gets in the way of believable characterization. So be on the lookout for places where your dialogue is actually exposition in disguise.

Readers can best learn about your locations and background not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life.

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