I thought that a mission briefing, match briefing (sports,) made perfect sense, but I think exposition like that is terrible.

In my story, there's a soldier who uses a special weapon purposed for a special operation, and I need to explain how the weapon operate. Is exposition required in that situation? How do you keep it at a minimum and keep the action going instead of showing a mission briefing scene and going over the weapon and the mission?

Just doing the exposition on the weapon during a mission briefing scene seems to be weird, so I have no idea how to keep it as short as possible.

  • 1
    Why do you need to explain how the weapon operates? Why doesn't it work to say the soldier was briefed and then show them using it? Dec 29, 2022 at 7:22

4 Answers 4


Short version:

Explain what needs to be explained when it needs to be explained... Do it with action...

For instance, maybe the weapon is battery operated, then have the battery run out at the exact wrong situation to cause drama. No need to explain the battery handling during some briefing.

If you can't come up with a dramatic situation that causes problems for your character, you should likely skip the exposition.

Long version:

There are basically two separate things I keep track of when dealing with exposition:

  1. Reader experience
  2. Reader understanding

Too much exposition, especially where it's not needed will degrade the reader's experience in the shape of low tempo, urge to skim or even drop the book, etc.

Too little exposition, on the other hand, risks confusing the reader (also a reason for them to give up).

There is a delicate balance between the two that may possibly only be achieved using beta readers. Unless you're really good at objectivity...

I have a rule of thumb for exposition:

Only include exposition if the information is vital to explain what is happening just as it is happening.

You can always go back and add foreshadowings if they are needed later. If the exposition introduces problems for the character, readers will usually accept them without foreshadowings.

Also, don't be afraid to confuse beta readers. I find it easier to add text than to remove it... it's also easier for a beta reader to understand and explain what they're lacking when you're too light on exposition.

Even required exposition (like anything else in a book) should have energy (dramatic, suspenseful, comedic, etc), so try to combine exposition with something that will have your reader on edge.

If that isn't possible, most authors (and their editors?) seem to prefer a short lecture instead of a confused reader.

  • 6
    You shouldn't have the battery create major drama without first introducing the battery. (I mean, you can if you want, but it feels very deus ex machina.) Instead it should come up earlier in the story--either a character is shown checking the battery on their weapon, or a character is shown recharging it, or there's a warning beep about low battery, or someone mentions the battery being better than it used to be, or...etc. Dec 29, 2022 at 15:47
  • "You can always go back and add foreshadowings if they are needed later." You may need to read the long answer as well ;) Also, deus ex machina only really applies when it helps or saves the character... godsent bad luck is much easier to accept for a reader.
    – Erk
    Dec 30, 2022 at 20:46
  • The next sentence after that is "If the exposition introduces problems for the character, readers will usually accept them without foreshadowings." I'm probably at the low end of tolerance for this, but personally if there's going to be major drama it should be foreshadowed first, even if it's against the main characters and not for them. Dec 30, 2022 at 21:01
  • Yes, use beta readers to figure out what the readers will and won't like. You can also check out your favorite authors. It is true that a gun on the wall in the first act must go off in the third... the question is if all guns in the third act must hang on that wall in the first? Also, there is a difference between major incidents and minor irritants. OP wants to know how to use exposition. Having a battery cause a minor irritation is a great way to tell us something about the weapon. Having a battery killing the POV character most likely needs more introduction.
    – Erk
    Dec 30, 2022 at 21:15
  • Maybe I should edit "have the battery run out at the exact wrong situation" to "have the battery run out at a somewhat slightly inconvenientish situation"? :P
    – Erk
    Dec 30, 2022 at 21:21

Invent a problem, about whatever it is about the weapon that will create a problem or plot point. (I hope that is the reason it "must" be explained, and not just some compulsion to explain your pet pseudo-science you invented -- resist the latter urge altogether.)

Your character collects his weapon from the armory, with a buddy, but insists on breaking it down first, over the objections of his impatient buddy.

Then he finds a problem.

Jack says, "Wait, look at this, Bill."

He hands Bill a small part.

"So what? It's a particle regulator."

"And it's like five years old! They're supposed to be replaced every three years, right?"

Bill is dismissive. "Come on, these things last forever."

"And if it blocks, it creates a feedback loop and kills me and the whole frikkin' team. I'm getting a new one."

Bill hands the regulator back, exasperated. "You're gonna make us late for chow. Again."

Jack takes the part back. "Go without me. Thank me when you're still alive in two weeks."


Mousentrude's comment could be the answer here. To expand on it a little, you need the scene if it's for some reason needed for telling the story. The reason might be, for example:

The reader needs this information before the character can be shown putting it to use.

Or, the information is at odds with what actually happens later (the hero was misinformed, or something goes wrong).

Or, the scene includes other details that will be important later.

Or, the scene is needed in the story itself - for instance, the hero and his instructor get into an argument and have a falling out.

If the scene of the briefing isn't needed to tell the story, feel free to skip it or sum it in a single sentence.


Shakespeare used a trick all the time, which has been copied over and over, of making up just any excuse, which can happen whenever you want, to have one character explain it to another. Amadeus's answer is doing that somewhat, but it can be as blatant or as subtle as you want.

For examples, you could have the main character's buddy ask "hey, what was that hush-hush briefing all about?" A brief summary feels natural now, and you get to have the buddy react to it ("sounds dangerous"). Or later in the mission a team member asks "what I don't understand is why we have to... " and we get the weapon's info-dump as part of a conversation. Or mix it up -- as they check out the weapon the chatty supply sergeant says "good luck finding a type-III demon heart. They told you how this thing works, right?".

To restate the trick: you want to tell the reader X. Think of a way to have one character tell that to another one. It can be totally cheesy and still somewhat work -- if you feel a need to explain the entire briefing, you can have teammate's say "we're not taking one more step until you tell us exactly what happened in that briefing" (which is when a movie would have a flashback).

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