Fiction is made up of five basic modes:
- dialogue ("You haven't heard the last of me," Cora said.)
- action/activity (Phil reached into his coat and pulled out a revolver.)
- description (The room was close, airless, dusty and decorated in a small variety of colors, all browns.)
- thought (She wondered if he found her attractive.)
- exposition (He'd been to the college a decade earlier while attending a seminar on finances.)
We (most of us) grew up being required to read books long on exposition (Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE or Melville's MOBY-DICK). We got used to seeing lots of exposition and lots of description in fiction — dated fiction, fiction not of this century.
Those books were written before most American readers had ever been to London or seen television or even mass-produced photography of European cities or whaling. Novelists had to spend lots of pages explaining how things worked and what they looked like and how they differed from the everyday life of the reader.
Then came television, mass media and fast-moving motion pictures. Now, when you write the word London in your novel, the reader immediately gets a picture in his mind of London and begins searching your text for the few differences in your story from his image of London. Readers today don't want to be told how things are or how they were or how something is unusual or different than the reader's experiences. Instead, the reader wants to see things at work, ongoing, witness the differences as part of the forward motion of the story and through the experiences of the characters. He wants less, not more. He wants small clues so he can draw his own conclusions. He wants what has been reduced to the classic fiction writing advice:
Show, don't tell.
This is best done by shifting the balance of your modes of writing to be long and robust in dialogue and action/activity. Devote fewer lines to description and thought (interior monologue). The reason for using thoughts or internal monologue sparingly is because it tends to be self-indulgent and equally often — too introspective. And there is little happening while your character is lost in thought.
Try to devote the fewest number of words to your exposition. And when you do include exposition, the reader will infer that it is essential he needs to know this "information" because you use so little of it.
What all the above amounts to is staying clear of the single cardinal sin of novel writing:
Don't bore your reader.
Readers today are hipper and catch on quickly and like to work things out for themselves rather than being spoon-fed. They want to privately take pride in understanding how and what's different in your settings among your characters and in your story from the clues they get as your characters go about their lives in your invented world.
And they want to pat themselves on the back for being able to get the bigger picture from the clues you place on the page.
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