Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Exposition Masquerading as Dialogue

Jenn's post yesterday got me thinking about some of the habits I've had to overcome since I began writing. One of my bad habits was thinking that because I'm using dialogue in a scene I'm showing and not telling. Unfortunately, that is not always true. This short article from illustrates this common pitfall and how to avoid it. I'm happy to say that I wasn't quite as bad as this example, but oft times our flawed techniques are subtle, which can make them harder to overcome.

"As You Know, Bob." -- Exposition Masquerading as Dialogue

If your dialogue sounds too stilted, you may have exposition passing itself off as dialogue. Dialogue's one and only purpose is to elucidate tension between characters. It is not, ever, ever, to convey information. A bad example of what I mean:

Exposition masquerading as dialogue: "As you know, Bob, we've been stuck on this desert island for twenty years, eating only the coconuts that grow on the one tree and fish which we catch with our hands. We have several vitamin deficiencies, and you've been picking your nose this whole time. Stop it, or I'm going to kill you!"


Dramatized exposition, and one line of dialogue: Ted pounded the coconut open with a rock. It wasn't quite ripe yet, but he was so tired of fish, and his fingernails stung in the salt water where they cracked and peeled.

Bob sat on the beach a few yards away. He was picking his nose again. Again.

"Stop it!" Ted screamed and picked up the rock he had used to smash the green coconut into meaty fragments.


  1. OMGosh! This is hilarious! Seriously! I've been laughing sooo hard! You're brilliant, Candi! Just brilliant! LOL!

    I too, have been struggling with this same thing, especially while writing my current WIP Prince Tennyson.. because it's from a ten year old girl's POV it makes it so hard for me. It's written in almost diary format and I've been struggling to find that fine line between showing and telling--even though 90% of the book is her telling the reader what happens, I still have to make sneak in there and act like it's really showing! LOL! When I tell people that this is the hardest book I've ever written, I'm not kidding! It's seriously, the HARDEST book I've ever written... LOL!
    Gonna stop whining now! LOL! Thanks for posting this! Jenni

  2. Awesome. Yes. It's good to remember that it's better to write really good narration than try and make your dialogue tell the history. It always sounds fake when your characters are explaining things merely for the reader.

  3. Very good point and something I find myself doing occasionally even still. It really does make the conversation ring false if you do this. Great examples :D

  4. LOLOL! I love the examples! I really needed this lesson, because through some of the examples I was thinking "that's not too bad"! I will definately read that link, I'm going to need all the help I can get! LOLOL!



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