In our earlier post on the questions to consider while Plotting, we briefly spoke to you about what plotting entails when you are writing a novel. In this five-part series on the structures of plots we bring to you what goes into plotting and why it is an extremely important literary element.
The plots of traditional stories are believed to follow a certain pattern. German playwright and novelist, Gustav Freytag is credited with analyzing the structures of stories. He proposed that the plot of story goes through the following dramatic arcs:
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
The same can represented as a pyramid
In this first post we talk to you about the first dramatic arc – Exposition and six ways to write an effective exposition. In subsequent posts, we will demystify the other arcs.
Structure of Plots – Part 1. What is Exposition?
Exposition is introducing your reader to your story. It’s saying, “Hello Reader, meet my character” or “Hello Reader, here’s that haunted house where everything is going to happen.”
Exposition comprises of the choices you make, as a writer, to set the scene and initiate readers to your story. It is about conveying intitial and necessary information.
6 WAYS TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE EXPOSITION
A. EXPOSITION THROUGH CONFLICT
Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.
Introducing your reader to the conflict, taking him/her straight to the story is an effective way. You don’t have to reveal anything more than what the conflict is. It serves as hook. In the above instance, the story begins with the main character’s arrest. Two policemen turn up at his home and arrest him. We are not told why he is being arrested and the character himself has no idea! Spoiler alert: The reason for his arrest is never revealed yet, as the story progresses, so much intrigue has been created that readers keep reading.
B. EXPOSITION THROUGH DIALOGUE
Exceprt from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
(Spoken by Dumbledore to Harry)
“Voldemort… took your blood believing it would strengthen him. He took into his body a tiny part of the enchantment your mother laid upon you when she died for you. His body keeps her sacrifice alive, and while that enchantment survives, so do you and so does Voldemort’s one last hope for himself.”
Notice how important information is introduced through dialogue. This is an extremely effective way because characters constantly interact with each other. So, if you encounter a situation where you need to provide information but are unable to do so in narration simply because it feels out of place, it might be an option to create an opportunity for dialogue and to then reveal the information through dialogue.
C. EXPOSITION THROUGH THOUGHTS / SOMETHING A CHARACTER HAS TO SAY ABOUT HIS/HER LIFE
There was no possibility of taking a walk THAT DAY. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, where was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door excerise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly windy afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddenned by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John and Georgina Reed
This way is effective when you want your readers to understand the state of mind of your character. Jane Eyre was treated very badly by people she called family and she was in a fragile state of mind for the longest time. So if a character’s state of mind or being is central plot point you could consider this sort of exposition. This story is often considered the original coming-of-age story.
D.EXPOSITION THROUGH CHARACTER INTRODUCTION
Excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by a Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.
Now don’t we like this character? J Of course we do. With an attitude like that? So, go ahead and introduce your readers to your character’s spunk! That’s a great way.
E. EXPOSITION THROUGH KEY BACKGROUND INFORMATION (THROUGH NARRATION)
Many years ago there lived an emperor who loved beautiful new clothes so much that he spent all his money on being finely dressed. His only interest was in going to the theater or in riding about in his carriage where he could show off his new clothes. He had a different costume for every hour of the day. Indeed, where it was said of other kings that they were at court, it could only be said of him that he was in his dressing room!
I’ve chosen a children’s story told in a traditional manner to make my point, the point being that good old narration with the key facts is also a great way to bring about an effective exposition. Good narration never goes out of fashion.
F. EXPOSITION THROUGH LETTERS, NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS, MEDICAL PRESCIRPTIONS, BILLS,
NEWSPAPER CLIPPING FromThe Blind Assassinby Margret Atwood
The Toronto Star, May 26, 1945
QUESTIONS RAISED IN CITY DEATH
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
A coroner’s inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death in last week’s St. Clair Ave. fatality. Miss Laura Chase, 25, was travellingwest on the afternoon of May 18 when her car swerved through the barriers protecting a repair site on the bridge and crashed into the ravine below, catching fire. Miss Chase was killed instantly. Her sister, Mrs. Richard E. Griffen, wife of the prominent manufacturer, gave evidence that Miss Chase sufferred from severed headaches affecting her vision. In reply to questioning, she denied any possibility of intoxication as Miss Chase did not drink…
This epistolary tool helps to provide a lot of information. Notice how all necessary information about a character’s death, reactions to that death from close relatives as well as details of close relatives and the death itself is presented. Diary excerpts, letters etc too are known to be used.
Expositions usually include:
- Who your characters are: Can include names, Profession, a particular like or dislike/ character traits – things that will help your readers get familiar with your character. Remember that your readers are following the trajectory of your characters. They will be rooting for your main character (usually) and good expositions help create good first impressions
- Where they are : A sense of the place where something is happenning or where something is going to happen
- Time: You remember the famous, “Once Upon a time” opening line? Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children too begins in a similar way. Consider this:
I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date. I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came.
As you can see from the opening lines, readers are introduced to a character who talks about his birth, his place of birth and time of birth. Almost immediately we know that this is very important information (“there is no getting away from the date…” and “time matters, too”) and get a sense of the setting – the day of Indian Independence is very clear from the above lines.
Novels have longer expositions than short stories owing to sheer length and the fact novesl require greater time investments from readers than short stories. Expositions of novels might run into a few pages.
(Note: In the above example, I used only the opening lines to make my point. This is not the entire exposition from the novel.)
WORD OF CAUTION WHILE USING EXPOSITION
Writers sometimes instinctively tend to give too much information to the readers. The rule of the thumb is, “act first, explain later.” Get the action going, you don’t have to explain everything! Invariably there will be plenty of opportunity to explain why something was done. Don’t turn exposition into an information dump!
Are there other great ways to write an effective exposition? Let us know by way of a comment!
Tips on Writing an Expository Essay
The purpose of the expository essay is to explain a topic in a logical and straightforward manner. Without bells and whistles, expository essays present a fair and balanced analysis of a subject based on facts—with no references to the writer’s opinions or emotions.
A typical expository writing prompt will use the words “explain” or “define,” such as in, “Write an essay explaining how the computer has changed the lives of students.” Notice there is no instruction to form an opinion or argument on whether or not computers have changed students’ lives. The prompt asks the writer to “explain,” plain and simple. However, that doesn’t mean expository essay writing is easy.
The Five-Step Writing Process for Expository Essays
Expository writing is a life skill. More than any other type of writing, expository writing is a daily requirement of most careers. Understanding and following the proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students, master the expository essay.
Expository Essay Structure
Usually, the expository essay is composed of five paragraphs. The introductory paragraph contains the thesis or main idea. The next three paragraphs, or body of the essay, provide details in support of the thesis. The concluding paragraph restates the main idea and ties together the major points of essay.
Here are expository essay tips for each part of the essay structure and writing process:
1. Prewriting for the Expository Essay
In the prewriting phase of writing an expository essay, students should take time to brainstorm about the topic and main idea. Next, do research and take notes. Create an outline showing the information to be presented in each paragraph, organized in a logical sequence.
2. Drafting the Expository Essay
When creating the initial draft of an expository essay, consider the following suggestions:
- The most important sentence in the introductory paragraph is the topic sentence, which states the thesis or main idea of the essay. The thesis should be clearly stated without giving an opinion or taking a position. A good thesis is well defined, with a manageable scope that can be adequately addressed within a five-paragraph essay.
- Each of the three body paragraphs should cover a separate point that develops the essay’s thesis. The sentences of each paragraph should offer facts and examples in support of the paragraph’s topic.
- The concluding paragraph should reinforce the thesis and the main supporting ideas. Do not introduce new material in the conclusion.
- Since an expository essay discusses an event, situation, or the views of others, and not a personal experience, students should write in the third person (“he,” “she,” or “it”), and avoid “I” or “you” sentences.
3. Revising the Expository Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. Keep these considerations in mind:
- Does the essay give an unbiased analysis that unfolds logically, using relevant facts and examples?
- Has the information been clearly and effectively communicated to the reader?
- Watch out for “paragraph sprawl,” which occurs when the writer loses focus and veers from the topic by introducing unnecessary details.
- Is the sentence structure varied? Is the word choice precise?
- Do the transitions between sentences and paragraphs help the reader’s understanding?
- Does the concluding paragraph communicate the value and meaning of the thesis and key supporting ideas?
If the essay is still missing the mark, take another look at the topic sentence. A solid thesis statement leads to a solid essay. Once the thesis works, the rest of the essay falls into place more easily.
4. Editing the Expository Essay
Next, proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. While an expository essay should be clear and concise, it can also be lively and engaging. Having a friend read the essay helps writers edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing the Expository Essay
Sharing an expository essay with a teacher, parent, or other reader can be both exciting and intimidating. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay better.
Essay writing is a huge part of a education today. Most students must learn to write various kinds of essays during their academic careers, including different types of expository essay writing:
- Definition essays explain the meaning of a word, term, or concept. The topic can be a concrete subject such as an animal or tree, or it can be an abstract term, such as freedom or love. This type of essay should discuss the word’s denotation (literal or dictionary definition), as well as its connotation or the associations that a word usually brings to mind.
- Classification essays break down a broad subject or idea into categories and groups. The writer organizes the essay by starting with the most general category and then defines and gives examples of each specific classification.
- Compare and contrast essays describe the similarities and differences between two or more people, places, or things. Comparison tells how things are alike and contrast shows how they are different.
- Cause and effect essays explain how things affect each other and depend on each other. The writer identifies a clear relationship between two subjects, focusing on why things happen (causes) and/or what happens as a result (effects).
- “How to” essays, sometimes called process essays, explain a procedure, step-by-step process, or how to do something with the goal of instructing the reader.
Time4Writing Teaches Expository Essay Writing
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing essays, including the expository essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.