What To Do With Exposition?

I’m working through Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and I got to the part about exposition, otherwise known as The Information Dump!

Bell has three rules for handling exposition.

  1. Act first, explain later. Get the character moving at the beginning of your story. A reader will follow a character without demanding to know more if they are engaged with the character and what the character is doing. You can divulge information bit by bit as you go along.
  2. When you explain, do the iceberg. Don’t tell everything you know right away. Give 10%, just enough to help the reader know what is going on and then save the 90% for later on in the story. Reveal the rest a little at a time.
  3. Setting information inside confrontation. Sometimes the best way to reveal information is to set it in the midst of great conflict. A character’s thoughts or even dialogue are great ways to toss information to the reader.

I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It is full of excellent information, told in a way that I can understand and grasp. It will definitely be one of my go-to books!

The iceberg rule was my favorite. Icebergs are deceptive and reveal little of the true nature of the beast! Catastrophe happens before you know it and you find yourself sinking fast!This could prove invauable to our characters. We should keep much of the back story hidden, giving just enough to hint at something mysterious and quite possibly dangerous! (I feel an evil laugh coming on.)

Strangely enough, I find that I am like an iceberg at times! Just letting a little of the real me show, because I am afraid of what others might really think if they see what’s below the surface. I wonder how many of us are like that. I wonder how many of our characters are like that.

What I really wonder is what Jeannie The Character Therapist might say to that! lol

20 responses to “What To Do With Exposition?”

  1. I like the ice berg thing too. Good information. I like the sound of that book.


  2. Oh my gosh!!! LOL I hope Jeannie stops by. *snicker* Too funny!

    Yes, I think most of us are icebergs, even people who seem very open and tell everything. I don't know we're afraid to show everything, but it seems to be a gut instinct in everyone.

    Great post! I need to remember to not tell too much info!


  3. Great reminders, Sherrinda! I'm still learning how to effectively share the important details and weave them in without giving the dump! I think there will always be a TON more information that we as writers know about our characters and story that we just won't share but that helps add invisible depth.


  4. Sherrinda thanks for the tips! I just rewrote the beginning chapter for one of main characters to take out too much backstory.

    Now I know it will prove effective!

    Blessings to you…


  5. I just love Plot and Structure. I'm reading it now before I begin my major edits. I love what he has to say on how to reveal a little at a time in the midst of conflict. Good stuff!!


  6. Oooh, this sounds like a wonderful book. Even though I write NF, I've found the rules of fiction very helpful.

    Mary Roberts Rinehart is a master at iceberg and Act First, explain later. She drops little hints here and there to keep you interested and drive you nuts!


  7. I really like that iceberg idea. I'm working really hard with that concept on my WIP. Giving just enough to get the reader to want more. Thanks for the tips!


  8. Oh, Sherrinda, we're two peas in a pod, except I'm not sure if I really know who I am, either, to even reveal the real me wholly if I could muster the courage.

    I must pull this book back out and reread it. I can't remember that iceburg thingy!


  9. I love Plot and Structure! I just recently reviewed it again, and the iceberg analogy was what struck me anew!

    GMTA! 🙂


  10. okay….my eyes bugged when i saw my name! i was like, what!

    so, my professional opinion as to why some people only show their iceberg tip:

    1) low self-esteem. hate to go here first, but it's probably the most prominent reason

    2) history of being burned from being TOO candid in the past

    3) trying to give off a mysterious air…so you do it on purpose?

    i'm sure there are other explanations….but these were off the top of my head. 🙂

    really good summation of bell here…i loved that book, too. the real thing to think about is what reason we will give our character for not dumping the 90%. gosh…that's where it gets fun!

    thanks for the shout out!

    Where Romance Meets Therapy


  11. Tabitha, you would love the book! It should be on every writer's bookshelf.

    Jessica, I think you are right…most of us don't really let it all hang out!

    Jody, invisible depth, huh? I like the thought of not really divulging everything about our characters, even though we could. It probably does add depth, without having to dump it all out.

    Tamika, good luck on the rewrite! I think it will be so hard for me to cut and snip away at my ms!

    Heather, it's good to know others re-read this book for help in their ms. I am looking forward to learning alot through it.

    Jeanette, I will have to check out Mary Roberts Rinehart and see how she does it! It helps to have examples, don't you think?

    Cindy, I wish I had been more conscious of the iceberg rule while writing my ms. It would have really helped me out!

    Eileen, goodness girl, if we can share the same pod, I will be in excellent company! I think we all struggle with the issue of being real. I have to remind myself that God made me who I am and in His eyes I am fabulous! 🙂

    Erica, I love hearing that others refer back to a book I have invested in! I know this one is definitely a keeper!

    Jeannie!!!!! No pressure, girl! I assumed the first reason – the low self-esteem, but that last reason made me think! Doing it on purpose? Very interesting. I think for me, part of it is being a preacher's wife and hearing too many stories from other preacher's wives of getting burned. I am definitely on the cautious side, for sure! Thanks so much for your input!


  12. Very helpful post today. I recognized these plot devices as being on some of my favorite TV shows. Indeed, they are what keeps an audience interested. The audience wants to see the hidden part of the iceberg and will stay until they do. This is a great formula for our MCs as well.
    Have to add this one to my birthday list.


  13. This is really going to help me in shaping my new WIP. I suppose it's a good thing to be stingy with your information 😉


  14. Hi Sherrinda –

    You inspired me to take my copy of Plot and Structure off the shelf and read it! I've already implemented several of his principles.

    When I attended a workshop with Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue, they were firm about no backstory for 30-60 pages. It slows the action down and loses the reader.

    Susan 🙂


  15. Great post and great reminder! I love that book!


  16. I like the iceberg. I used to be so bad at info dumping. Now, I dump it all in the first chapter to get it out. Chapter 2, which will actually be the real and final first chapter starts the story and I weave in all the stuff from the rejected first chapter into the story.


  17. Ava, I think the iceberg definitely helps in movies and TV! I love the mysterious!

    T. Anne, YES! To be stingy is a GREAT thing. At least in the dumping department! lol

    Susan, no backstory for 30-60 pages? Oh my goodness! Surely you have to explain somethings! Wow…I've got some work to do.

    Katie, I've always loved your posts on Bell. You are the one that sold me on him! 🙂

    Amy!!! What a great idea! Write the first chapter as The Dump and then let the 2nd chapter be the first! Excellent! I'm going to have to try that.


  18. I've read a few contest entries where there's a boring backstory dump, which made me aware of the reasons to avoid this common pitfall, one I was guilty of in my early manuscripts. I've heard that if you have to get the backstory out of your system, write it down and save it to dole out in snippets as needed. I've seen this done well in other entries and published books, and I strive to emulate these great examples.


  19. Fantastic info! I've learned these things the hard way. I should have read that book a long time ago!


  20. Very beneficial posting Excited for additional content articles in your web page.


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