Sunday, May 4, 2014

Don't drown your readers in exposition!

Since I finished Neal Stephenson's Reamde earlier today (after starting it about half a year ago) I wanted to write a small article about exposition. It might not be one of my strongest suits, but I'm just getting started and have a lot to learn, whereas Neal Stephenson should know better. I've never read any of his other novels, though, therefore I cannot say if all of them are like Reamde or not.

Neal Stephenson

Anyway, it's nice to have a certain amount of exposition in a story, since it gives readers a glimpse into how your world works, how it looks, how your characters became who they are and so on. My stories might be a little bit lacking in that regard, but that amount of exposition is still better than what Reamde threw at me.

The novel devotes countless pages to absolutely nothing.


Sure, I learned much about the setting and the characters. And the book conveyed an interesting vision of an MMORPG and its entire economy, but did I really need to know all that?
No, I didn't! Especially not in something that is called a thriller. A thriller should be exciting, it should build to a grand finale, but Reamde slowls to a crawl the closer it gets to the ending, which ultimately forced me to skip most of the exposition, the descriptions and even parts of the dialogue. I just wanted to get it over with and that is not what a good story should achieve.
I should savor every moment, be engrossed in the story, root for the characters...but Reamde fails in that regard. It's too long, too dull, too bloated and it juggles way too many characters.

So yeah, don't do that. Keep exposition to a bare minimum, unless it's essential to understanding the story! You can still build upon that if your betareaders complain about a lack of exposition. That's still far better than getting lost in your own writing. Not everyone will have the stamina to read through a novel that bores them. That's like navigating a labyrinth in the hopes of finding a treasure in the end, which is certainly not what I found at the end of Reamde.

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