My book needs a lot of early exposition to explain the existence of the strange, speculative world in which it is set, and to explain how the protagonist (who is from the world as we know it) got there. Exposition is tricky. A bit of it can be done through the dialogue and a bit of it can be done by simply throwing the reader in without any help and letting them figure stuff out for themselves, but I need more than that. My concept is fairly complicated, and I want it to be clear early on so that I can move beyond it quickly. I’ve been thinking about ways to do this (and kicking myself repeatedly for not coming up with something easier to write).
I tend to get sick of exposition through dialogue. One character is ignorant and asks a question and another character answers it for their benefit and the benefit of the reader, or two characters are having an unrealistically detailed conversation about how things work when neither of them are ignorant about it… It doesn’t take long for this to get tiresome and forced, at least when I write it. There will still be enough of it in my book, but I have other strategies I’m working with that are intended to keep it to a minimum. One method I’ve decided on might seem like a bit of a cheat, but I’m having a lot of fun with it.
The characters in my fictional world use devices that are similar to iPads except with way more functions, and everyone has one. As students, they access and create documents with these tablets. (There are no paper documents because it’s wasteful and the storage takes up space.) My plan is to stick extracts of these documents into the novel, either for useful exposition, for humour, for world-building, or just for interest’s sake. Instead of having one of the characters say “Well, it says here…”, the readers can just read the whole thing for themselves.
I’ve found this to be an effective way of breaking up sections and concluding scenes that don’t want to end. In writing these little fictional wiki entries, I’ve actually figured out things about the world I’m creating that I often didn’t have a clear picture of before. Because of this, I’m going to keep writing them, and when I eventually finish this draft (in about three hundred years’ time, at this rate) I’ll remove the crappy ones and the ones that aren’t adding anything to the story.
Here’s the first one I ever wrote, before I decided to implement these silly entries as an ongoing feature and a sneaky means of exposition:
Scrattins are small, nimble, nocturnal rodents native to the southern forests of Mass 2. They live predominantly in the hollows of wickernut trees, and feed on the wickernuts. They horde the nuts in their hollows for subsistence during winter when the nuts are out of season. Although the nuts are their main food source, scrattins are omnivorous, and they supplement their diet with insects such as ickricks and madifers. Scrattins are monogamous and notoriously prolific. They are usually born in litters of five to ten, and infant mortality is very low, due in part to the involvement of both parents in the feeding and protection of their young. Scrattins are very territorial and are known to defend their hollows to the death, particularly when the hollows are inhabited by their dependent offspring. Scrattins are the primary prey of the grey vollop. The vollops hunt lone individuals, usually when they are out hunting or gathering and therefore distracted or encumbered by food.
Note: The marsupial erikets of the forests of Mass 3 and 4 are often erroneously referred to as scrattins.