Got Fiction?

Wright Memorial Public Library

by Ed Davis on February 8, 2013

The Police

Sometimes I’ve been labeled the “exposition police” in writing groups—and I wear that badge both proudly and humbly:  proud to be of use to my fellow scribblers, humbled by the knowledge that I learned it from talented peers.

So I’m going to attempt to give back what was so generously given me.  Dialogue and exposition are two of the most important craft issues a fiction writer faces. Please join me on Saturday, March 2nd, from 2-4:00 p.m. at Wright Memorial Public Library in lovely Oakwood, Ohio, 1776 Far Hills Avenue, for a free workshop on The Art of Exposition and Dialogue.

Advance registration is required and limited to the first 20 people.  Contact the Reference Department at 294-7171 to register beginning Friday, February 15th.  Visit the library’s website for more details. Please join us for a lively time! If you’ve never visited, you’ll love this jewel of a library.

What to Expect

I’ve been wrestling with the dialogue and exposition demons and passing along the fruit of my labor to students at Sinclair and elsewhere for the better part of four decades. So feel free to avail yourself of my handouts on these as well as many other topics. However, I’m got some new stuff for the workshop, including an exercise I’ve used only once at the Mad Anthony Conference April of 2012, where it was a big hit.

Exposition First, Please

After a bit of literary triage to see where my audience is, vis-à-vis exposition, we’ll get right down to business. Once I’m sure we all know what the stuff is (the easy part), I’ll discuss the best ways to manage this most telling of fictional techniques. It’s fun, but it ain’t always easy. I should know. Of nearly 23,000 words I’ve recently cut out of my latest novel, I’m guessing 10K was exposition I discovered that I can do without.

Yes, the easiest way to “manage” exposition is to simply eliminate it. However, that is not always an option—just ask a fantasy or sci-fi writer who’s into “world-building”; some of these writers even use appendixes! But literary writers often need to convey a lot of factual information, too, especially the farther into the story they begin their tale.

Dialoguing About Dialogue

As soon as possible, we’ll segue into a conversation about dialogue. Every aspiring fiction writer wishes her dialogue was zingy enough to sing harmony with Crosby, Stills and Nash—or at least with the Rolling Stones. But the last thing you want is to earn the critique I did upon submitting my first novel many years ago:  “No one talks like this.” My critic was wrong:  I did! But his point was well-taken:  Writers must use a variety of credible voices or the reader won’t believe a word of it.

My handouts on “good dialogue” and “advanced dialogue” will be referent points as we move into the delicate and difficult art of incorporating exposition into characters’ speeches (one way to manage exposition—we’ll definitely discuss others—but one of the most difficult, if your characters aren’t to sound like idiots, telling each other what they already know and/or making us tear out our hair in boredom).

Safety First

And now it’s the audience’s turn to alchemize all they’re learned into gold by completing a brief exercise, watching for dialogue that’s overladen with exposition. Then the best part as participants share what they’ve written—volunteers only, of course.

“Oh, no,” you’re saying, “I couldn’t produce anything in 15-20 minutes worthy of reading aloud to real writers.”  Au contraire, my fabulist friends. Here’s what thirty years have taught me:  Fast, spontaneous bursts of writing, performed in a supportive setting, frees rather than constricts. (I’ll do my best to provide the safe, friendly environment; I know the library will do its part, too.)

Full Disclosure

Okay, once I made an elementary student cry when I asked his class to do one of my exercises, but, believe me, he was an exception—and not only did his teacher eventually exempt him; she hugged him, too! Positive results are much more likely. Writers who’ve never done this type of writing are always amazed at themselves as much as their peers. In my college classes, I always did the exercise beforehand so that I could share if no one volunteered. I can’t recall a single time when I needed to share, but I recall getting so inspired by my students that I wanted to!

And, yes, I’ve been on the hot seat many times in workshops I’ve attended—and always enjoyed the result. Many’s the time I’ve heard a writer say that an exercise turned into a real short story. It’s happened to me, too.

Writing at Wright

As my hero John Gardner famously wrote:  students produce some of their finest doing writing exercises “because the stakes are so low.” It’s just an exercise. Everyone knows you ripped it off in twenty minutes! Trust the process, my friends, and it may shock and amaze you. If not, what have you lost? And I’ll hug you if no one else will.

See you at the library, pen in hand or laptop in bag, rarin’ to write? Right?

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