Exposition (narrative)

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For other uses, see Exposition (disambiguation).

Narrative exposition, or simply exposition, is expository writing in narrative contexts (such as history or fiction), especially in order to introduce important background information within a story; for example, information about the setting, characters' back-stories, context, etc.[1] Exposition is one of four rhetorical modes (also known as modes of discourse), along with description, argumentation, and narration, as elucidated by Alexander Bain and John Genung[2][further explanation needed]. Each of the rhetorical modes is present in a variety of forms and each has its own purpose and conventions. There are several ways to accomplish exposition.

Information dump[edit]

"Information dump" occurs when background information is not interwoven with the narrative.[3] Scenes in a playscript are often introduced with a brief information dump to explain the situation the characters are in. In serial television dramas, information dumps often appear in episodes as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase "Previously on [name of series]".

"As you know, Bob" or "idiot lecture" are terms that describe a situation where characters use needless language for expository reasons.[4][5] For example, actors in a movie may call their spouse "wife" or "husband" instead of by their first name so that the audience knows they are married. "Villain speech" is a form of idiot lecture wherein villains describe their sinister plans to the hero they have caught.


Incluing is a technique of world building, in which the reader is gradually exposed to background information about the world in which a story is set. The idea is to clue the readers into the world the author is building, without them being aware of it. This is in opposition to infodumping, where a concentrated amount of background material is given all at once in the story, often in the form of a conversation between two characters, both of whom should already know the material under discussion. (The so-called As you know, Bob conversation.)

Both incluing and infodumping are forms of exposition and are frequently used in science fiction and fantasy, genres where the author has the task of making the reader believe in a world that does not exist. Writers in other genres have less use for these techniques, as they can often depend on the reader's familiarity with the "real world".

Incluing can be done in a number of ways: through dialogues, flashbacks, character's thoughts,[6] background details, in-universe media[7] or the narrator telling a back-story.[6]

The word incluing is attributed to fantasy and science fiction author Jo Walton.[8] She defined it as "the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart the information."[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kaplan SAT Subject Test: Literature 2009-2010 Edition. Kaplan Publishing. 2009. p. 60. ISBN 1419552619. 
  2. ^ Smith, Carlota S. (2003). Modes of Discourse: The Local Structure of Texts. Cambridge University Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0521781695. 
  3. ^ Bell, James Scott (22 September 2004). Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure. Writer's Digest Books. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-58297-684-6. 
  4. ^ Kempton (2004). Write Great Fiction - Dialogue. F+W Media. p. 190. ISBN 1582972893. 
  5. ^ Rogow (1991). FutureSpeak: a fan's guide to the language of science fiction. Paragon House. p. 160. ISBN 1557783470. 
  6. ^ a b Dibell, Ansen (1988). Plot. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-303-3.  *Kernen, Robert (1999). Building Better Plots. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books. p. 51. ISBN 0-89879-903-1. 
  7. ^ Morrell, Jessica Page (2006). Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-58297-393-7. 
  8. ^ Michelle Bottorff (2008-06-11). "rec.arts.sf.composition Frequently Asked Questions". Lshelby.com. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  9. ^ "papersky: Thud: Half a Crown & Incluing". Papersky.livejournal.com. Retrieved 2011-11-06.