REVIEW: “Some Thoughts on Exposition” by Tobias S. Buckell

Review of Tobias S. Buckell, “Some Thoughts on Exposition”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 39-43 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Buckell’s piece, an adaptation of an earlier piece, “Expository Narrative” published in It’s All Just a Draft in 2019, discusses five ways expository information can be delivered in a story, and identifies positives and negatives for each:

  1. Flashback
  2. Dialogue exposition
  3. Narrator exposition
  4. Exposition through a character’s internal voice
  5. Interacting with information

Most of the negatives for each of these focus on how they can cause the momentum of a story to come to a halt. The more effective ways are the ones that can provide the reader with the background info that they need without compromising the pace and momentum of the story, which is partly why (according to Buckell) dialogue exposition can be more effective than, e.g., flashback — so long as you avoid the “as you know, Bob” dialogue exposition! But as with any good writing, “the key to making exposition work is…in incorporating all of these tricks throughout a story and scattering them evenly in between” (p. 42). He suggests, as an exercise, taking a short story and highlighting all occurrences of exposition, and classifying them according to the categories above. First, it will teach you what is exposition and what is not; second, it will show which types of exposition are most effective in which contexts. I’m certainly going to try this, both on stories written by others and on my own work.

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