Exorcising Exposition

Dialogue. I love writing dialogue. There is one thing I sometimes catch myself doing and maybe even don’t catch it.

Expositions. In dialogue, it is using dialogue for the benefit of the reader. This information belongs in narrative or better-written conversation. Basically, it’s when characters talk, telling each other information they should logically know. It’s weird and awkward and the reader knows it.

Extreme example time.

John glanced down at the fuel gauge. “Oops. We forgot to fill up with gas from the gas station when we switched up before we started driving across this long remote forest highway.”
“That’s okay John, we have the gas can you packed. That will be enough to get us to the next station.”
“No. I didn’t pack it, you did.”
They looked at each other.
“That’s not good. There are no stations for miles we need gas to get to the next gas station. John, how could you forget such an important thing? If the car runs out of gas we’ll be stranded. We’ll never get to the cabin for our epic weekend getaway of fishing, drinking booze and smoking pot. You need to turn the car around and go back the way we came.”
“Yeah, I’ll turn around now to go get gas and maybe a gas-can because the cabin is so far out from the last station.” 

Um… no way! Cars don’t run on empty? Okay so to start off this is a great example of telling instead of showing, only it’s within the dialogue. Awkward right? The exposition also tends to creep in as run on sentences. Most of this can be dumped into the narrative. To start people just don’t do this. They do not naturally speak the redundantly obvious.

“Exposition in dialogue” or “Dialogue for the benefit of the reader.” This is when two characters tell each other things they both already know and have no reason to talk about, just to give the reader important information. It’s unnatural and awkward and should generally be avoided or put in the narrative or better-structured dialogue.

Solutions to this problem.

Option one. Try to have the characters contemplate or Reminisce.  I recommend using these with caution, it can sound forced or wind you right back into loading the dialogue up with exposition.

John glanced over at his friend Tim. “Man! I can’t wait to get to the cabin.”
“Right?  Dude, an entire weekend of booze, pot, and fishing.”
“Like the good ole days. Nothing and nobody for miles, but bears and trees.”
John glanced at the speedometer and then the gas gauge. “Crap we forgot to top up.”
“It’s fine, you packed the gas can.”
John gripped the wheel. “I thought you did.”
They looked at each other and Tim paled. “Dude, I’m not walking six hours back to that damned gas station. Turn around.”
“On it.” John slowed to make the U-turn.
“We’re idiots. We need to pick up a gas can.” Tim said. “Imagine getting there and running out of gas? We’d die for sure.”

While I’d have conversations about important things, it’s a fine line to know when it’s necessary or obvious dialogue.

Option two. Explaining or telling a character who doesn’t know is a good way to allow for rich conversation if you’re looking for a narrative break. This can easily come close to sounding fake or forces so be careful and as lazy writing. Since the two are heading out on a trip I’ll have to bring a third character into the conversation.

John glanced over at his friend Tim as Jack rolled joints in the back. “Man! I can’t wait to get to the cabin.”
“Right?  Dudes, an entire weekend of booze, pot, and fishing.” Tim looked back at Jack. “Just wait till you see it, nothing and nobody for miles. Just bears and trees.”
John glanced at the speedometer and then the gas gauge. “Crap we forgot to top up.”
Tim scoffed. “It’s fine, you packed the gas can.” 
John gripped the wheel. “Uh no. I thought you did Tim.”
Jack shook his head as Tim looked back at him. “Don’t look at me.”
Tim paled. “Dude, I’m not walking six hours back to that damned gas station in the dark. Turn around.”
“On it.” John slowed to make the U-turn.
“We’re idiots.” Tim snorted. Without gas, they would be in very real danger.

Option three. Arguing. Arguing is another way to allow dialogue to contain more information. This can also be risky if the dialogue is unnaturally loaded with information.

John looked at the fuel gauge. “Tim you forgot to get the gas when we switched up back at the rest-stop.”
“No, you did. No biggie we have the gas can you packed.”
“It was your job to pack it. I packed the booze, pot and fishing gear.” John shot Tim a hard look. 
“No, it wasn’t. I’m not walking the six hours down that dark road back to that damned rest-stop so bears can munch on my bones. Turn around.” His voice oozed with a low level of fear.
“Yeah, yeah I’m turning now. We better get a gas-can too since we’re both freaking idiots.”
They nodded in agreement since the cabin is too far from any gas station to not have one. 

Lastly and fourth. Narrate it. This is the best way to fix this IMO, to put the exposition into the narrative where it really belongs. This is not a word count friendly method, but in the long run, it has much better flow.

The car sped down the vacant highway bordered by vast expanses of forest in all directions. John glanced at the speedometer then at the fuel gauge.
“Ah cr, p Tim we forgot the gas.”

Anxious to get to their cabin, they neglected to check when they stopped to switch places, use the restrooms and grab more junk-food. The rest-stop, twenty minutes back up the road, is the halfway mark to their weekend of booze, pot, and fishing. Neither thought to check the fuel gauge when they switched places driving.
 Tim reached for his can of coke.”You brought the gas can. It will get us to the next station.”
John gripped the wheel. “Wait. I didn’t pack it. I thought you did.”
Tim paled. The bear infested remote old-growth forest was not the best place to become stranded with a jeep full of tasty smelling food. The near seven hour-long walk back would take them well into the night.
Tim tilted his head and scrunched his face. “Seriously? Dude turn around.”
John smirked. “Yeah yeah I’m on it.” He said as he slowed to make the U-turn. “We should get a gas-can too.”
Both men looked at each other dumbfounded. It was a stupid move not to have one in this wilderness. The cabin was a fair distance from the last available gas station.

How I change or fix the dialogue expositions also depends on what tone I want. I don’t want to make them cranky or argue they’re about to head out on a grand weekend adventure. Stating the obvious in dialogue is easy to do and easy to fix. I often find myself focusing on getting the story out I put exposition in the dialogue because I’m rushing or if I’m honest I got lazy. My desire to be the best I can, and write my stories as well as I am able, is what drives me to learn and share.

My advice about exorcising exposition.
Read the dialogue out loud by yourself or with someone. Record it and play it back. Is that how people talk or are they verbalizing narrative?


Other chatty posts;

Conversing is easy…not!

Talking Trivial

Speak up!

Hold your tongue!

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17 thoughts on “Exorcising Exposition

  1. You brought back a memory for me too…family went on an outing and the bros forgot to fill the gas tank and ended up arriving home very late…it was definitely, lol, a lesson learned. Never neglect the gas tank. haha Love your sharing. It’s always valuable and rewarding. Awesome stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

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