If my main character goes to a new building – let's say in the beggining of a short story – and I describe the facade and the design of the building, is this exposition (i.e. information that is not part of the story, in this case of setting, location), or is this just description in this particular scene? Let's consider that the building is not that important to the story and the character will not return to it.

I'm having some problem in understanding the difference between setting / location exposition (background information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposition_(narrative) ) and description.

Backstory of characters or whatever information or concepts I might "teach" is clearily exposition.

Character description is clearily just description.

I know that exposition can be delivered by description, as it can be delivered by dialogue, action or just info statements. But the location descriptions are still confusing for me if I should consider exposition or not.

  • I'm finding it hard to tell what the question is, here. Could you maybe look over it one more time, and maybe pull the actual question to the bottom?
    – Weckar E.
    Jan 2, 2020 at 23:04

2 Answers 2


What you describe is description (and probably unnecessary). However, I feel you are seeking labels without understanding the mechanics of story-telling. The relevance of the description is dependent on its function - What does it do? The function of the description varies according to POV. It becomes relevant when the character emotionally interacts with it.

A rough guide to the effectiveness of description can be obtained by observing the use of the verb 'to be'.

St Paul's Church was an impressive building. It was built in 1841 by the King of Dubai. The spire was . . .

  • This description is a bland series of facts.

Before entering St Paul's Church Sarah took a moment to marvel at the architecture, the stone construction, the domed spire - impressive.

  • Here the interaction indicates the character has an interest in architecture, religion or both.

In addition to basic facts and information about the character (as mentioned by Surtsey), the description can also help set the mood.

The ruin's spires loomed far above him, hiding the moon from sight. Whispers in the yew trees warned him to stay away, and when he pushed open the heavy ornate gate, he had duck under a cloud of bats.

  • Could you give this another look? Answers are generally expected to stand on their own, and to tackle the generic (rather than the specific) problem.
    – Weckar E.
    Jan 3, 2020 at 12:02

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