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Typically an exposition is a few sentences or paragraphs to clue the reader into the time and place, and maybe set a bit of the mood for the core of the story. However, I would like to dedicate 100 or so pages to the exposition. The target length of my book is roughly 500 pages, and so a 100-page exposition would constitute a hefty portion.

The 100-page exposition would allow me to avoid describing the time and place with a few sentences and allow the reader to assimilate hundreds of sentences in an attempt to achieve a more organic exposition.

Inside the 100-pages:

  • No rising action
  • No main characters will be introduced
  • There would be some random encounters of "extras"
  • Sensory embellishments (Thursday was sunny // In the winter, a faint pine scent clung to the air)

To be clear, the first 100 pages would have absolutely nothing to do with the main plot. Nor would there be any main characters or anything to anchor the reader even if he/she attempted to interpret the lengthy exposition as a narrative with a story arch.

Question

Would this be too taboo? Would publishers / readers be reluctant to read 100 pages that serve only as an exhaustive exposition? If this formula has been used already, I would also be curious to see how much success it has achieved in terms of readership.

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    What are your reasons for wanting to do this? Jan 29 at 12:46
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My son is an attorney. On his desk is a brass plaque that reads, "Legal but Stupid". He has need to point to this plaque frequently as he offers advice.

What you are proposing is legal (not taboo), but unless it is of astonishing quality, it is probably not a good idea.

This is my opinion and I understand it is harsh. I have argued repeatedly in this forum that a writer can take a story in any direction and use any techniques that they want but, in the end, it is the reader who decides what works and what does not. It will take a dedicated reader to go through these 100 pages. Why would they want to do this? One answer is that the author has a track record and the readers rightly expect a cracking good story in the end. In other words, when the writer breaks from convention, the readers should get a valuable prize to reward the effort that they, the readers, have had to expend to consume the unconventional material.

My advice is to write these 100 pages and refer to it as a story "bible" when you write the exciting parts of the story. You might offer it to readers who signup for a newsletter or just as a promotional device to attract a certain kind of reader. That way you get the joy of writing the material without placing obstacles in the reader's way.

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  • I don't think you're being harsh at all! This is a nicely balanced explanation of why it's probably not a good idea and what the author might do instead. Jan 29 at 12:48
  • Yes, I'm thinking of the Lord of the Rings companion books. Even though I liked Silmarillion and thought it had story, I can understand anyone who thinks it's more a compendium or bible in the more literal sense. And then there are other LotR-world books. Their value and readership come from the LotR books themselves and once you get sucked into that you want to read the other books as well.
    – Erk
    Jan 30 at 3:45
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Taboo? No.
Good? Not really. Most people do not want to read that sort of core dump.

That said I did read (but wish I had not) a very very long book where all 500 pages were essentially an exposition of some sort of literary style by a somewhat famous author in England.

I would strongly advise you against doing that. But if you do you better have a very good reason and write better than Hemingway, Rowling, and Patterson rolled into one.

So ask yourself if you are really the next James Joyce and whether the current video-oriented population would read that stuff if you wrote it.

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  • Good point on the current readership. Even if you write better than James Joyce contemporary readers might go nah, too complex, where's my gaming mouse? :D
    – Erk
    Jan 30 at 3:49
  • +1, I agree with your main point. It does make a book boring if it has a 500-page exposition.
    – Nai45
    Jan 30 at 4:27
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Dune and Lord of The Rings both have large texts with nothing but exposition that enrich the story, but they were included as appendices, since reading the supplementary text was never necessary to enjoy the stories. In the case of Dune, the dictionary was necessary because Herbert created so many terms in his world-building that weren't intuitively clear when used in context.

If your 100 page tract of exposition is absolutely necessary for the understanding of the novel, then it's likely going to be poorly received. Otherwise, you can append it as a History of Left Lower Earth and take your place in the pantheon of Herbert and Tolkien and others.

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Why are people reading your book? To get into a good story with interesting characters doing interesting things? Or trudge through a load of 'why bother' facts. Even a first page of data-dump is too much.

Suppose tomorrow is the big battle then you (your characters) need to be focussed on that. The enemy are THE ENEMY BASTARDS with some weaknesses perhaps. That princess Karen is the step daughter of King Fred and Queen Doris is not their concern at the moment. They are not concerned with the strategic bongo-bongo fields or politics of the Upper-Lower-No-Up-A-Bit Empire. Your job as a writer is to take us to the time and place as it happens.

What is it in the first ten pages that needs any exposition? Let the characters speak or act for themselves. If you need to tell us who the goodies and baddies are then have some toasts "Loyalty to the Empire and death to the Rebels!" Or newspaper headlines or similar. If Wally is on a quest we need to know about, then start with him being torn from his placid life by immediate events, orders and impulsive feelings.

It's perfectly common for a book to start with a super-wide shot and then zoom in... more... and more... and more... Until the fateful letter is lying unopened on the doormat, in the house, in the street, in the village, in the mining district, in the valleys by the sea. Wally picks up the letter and... ACTION!

In what way will your readers be confused by missing-out on the exposition? What will they miss? When you need an explanation of, say, why the doodlebugs must be captured before the 4th May, then an explanation by the characters is to the point at the moment it becomes relevant. Added advantage of potential conflict between characters: "But I MUST borrow it tonight because..." [Bonus=not the real reason given. Expose a couple of pages later.]

It's a common thing to wish educate your readers on the world you've imagined. Actually they're interested in the story and characters. The 'science' of time-travel etc. doesn't matter but perhaps the cost or danger or social stigma does.

One final example I recall from a writer's group: Opening chapter was practically all exposition. No atmospheric description even. I suggested "What are we going to do about all this?" as the opening line then the dialogue should flow and the narrator can add in bits about charred ruins, broken glass and the stink of burned plastic if the characters can't. Whether it was aliens, stormtroopers, MAGAnuts, earthquake, escaping magic or whatever the important thing is that the people on the ground have to deal with this some way.

Aside: People relate to people. An author has to make us want to feel for or be disgusted by characters. Your characters shouldn't be names in history books but sprites inside the reader's head they can empathise with. I'm guessing that your personality leans towards this-happened-that-happened. That's fine for video games and comic books but good reads need characters with feelings and nerves and uncertain resolve and varying relationship skills. The reader has to be beside them in real-time not reading a police report. I would suggest that you put aside 100 pages of history and write a paragraph or two about the first three characters to appear in the book. (Not what they look like but what sort of person they are.) Now let them loose and throw their words and their actions onto the page. They don't have any more clue how it all ends than you do. Things will happen. You might get bored and kill-off Fred in a freak rhubarb accident while the Pogo-stick-oil salesman who is always swearing and getting into trouble appears and charms us all. I don't know. Neither do you.

Good luck. It's common to do the exposition only to have the first three chapters cut.

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