Tag Archives: characterization

The Art of Narrative, Part Two: Exposition

Welcome back!

***A quick note before we begin—the call for flash topics opens today! Please send your idea (a theme, a sentence, a prompt, or a couple of words) to evariederauthor@gmail.com. I will be choosing a topic and incorporating it into a 500 to 1,000 word piece for next week’s Third Thursday Flash. Submissions will remain open until Monday the 8th at 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time! In your email, please let me know if you would prefer I keep your name anonymous should I pick your idea, and thanks for participating!***

Last Thursday, I started an exploration of the art of narrative. My post focused on point of view (otherwise known as POV), and now that we’ve established who the narrator/speaker is, we move into the first stage of the narrative arc: exposition.

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary Online, exposition is “1. a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing) [and] 2. discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.” Thus the point of the exposition is to provide the reader with background information and details that will set the tone for the rest of the work. This happens in three key parts: setting, character details, and mood.

Let’s focus on each individually.


The setting tells us where and when a story takes place, but also introduces themes and background viewpoints essential to the story. While the where is portrayed with ample sensory detail and gives the reader an idea of where he or she is about to set foot in the story, other information is provided at this stage to signal pending plot lines and narrative themes (for example, homelessness and hunger in a post-apocalyptic world, or political upheaval in an ancient time). These features help readers identify potential goals of characters they will meet, which will further their understanding of why characters make their choices. Writer and former agent Nathan Bransford wrote an excellent post about these deeper aspects of setting, which you can read here.

Depending on the plot of the story, setting may reappear throughout the work or change dramatically with each chapter (for example, a space opera might center around a ship that docks at various planets, each conveyed with new setting details, whereas a story that takes place entirely in a house will not need to add much in the showcasing of different rooms). Whether local or more broad, setting at every stage of the story helps orient the reader and provides context for the plot.

Character Details:

Along with the background detail of the setting, the exposition introduces a protagonist. A skilled writer unveils the protagonist slowly yet thoroughly, making him, her, or it accessible to the reader without creating an “info dump” of all their personal details. This gradual familiarity allows the reader to identify the character’s goals and struggles, so that they in turn will understand the intensity of the impending conflict and the character’s reaction. Though the antagonist and/or conflict is not always introduced in this stage, some motivations or issues may start to surface in preparation for the obstacle to come.

Characters must become real to their readers. This is accomplished through a portrayal of their interests, thoughts, speech patterns, behavior, appearance, and other mannerisms, as well as how they interact with others. Dialogue, inner thoughts, and actions are all compelling ways to take the reader on a journey through the characters’ personal details instead of listing them in a bland and telling way. “Joe had red hair. Joe had a big nose. Immediately, Joe lost his wallet and screamed. This was because Joe had a rager of temper, so when he started yelling everyone ran in fear.” Not so interesting, right? As writers, we must be mindful of how we introduce character details, making sure to feed traits through action so as to pull the narrative along in a smooth manner. UDL Editions by Cast provides some helpful quotes and thoughts on characterization here.


Setting and characterization are huge aspects of a narrative—but the mood is also important. Mood is what the reader feels, a sensation that will carry him or her through the work. This mood is a foreshadowing of sorts, alerting the reader to the story’s possibilities. Word choice, tone, voice, theme, imagery, dialogue, character behavior, and setting details are all features that convey mood. A shadowed forest with heavy winds and a mumbling vagabond might alert the reader to a sinister, dark tale, while a giggling, blushing child running across a pier might indicate a lighthearted and fun tale to come.

Through each part of the exposition—setting, character details, and mood—writers prepare the reader for the narrative journey ahead. Some writers spend a great deal of time on the exposition stage, and in turn, some readers love a lengthy and detailed exposition before diving forward in the narrative. Other writers craft a shorter exposition with the hopes of letting more details reveal themselves throughout the piece.

What about you—what’s your style when it comes to exposition length and detail? What is your favorite to read?

Please share below! I’d love to hear. 🙂



Oh my goodness, am I excited to tell you about this book!

For years I’ve loved Carol Goodman‘s work. You’ll even find her book, The Lake of Dead Languages, listed as one of my favorites on my Links page. Ms. Goodman’s stories usually fall into the genre of contemporary/mainstream literature, and her style is quite gothic and eloquent. So, suffice it to say I was delighted to discover she’d made a crossover, writing a gothic paranormal romance under the pseudonym of Juliet Dark.

And what a read it was! Goodman/Dark’s prose is enchanting, and her imagery is mind-boggling and rich. Every time I read her work, I find passages to read over and over for their lush beauty.

The same held true in The Demon Lover, in which a college professor with a background in the supernatural—vampires, fairies, incubi, and the like—found her way to an unusual college in the remote town of Fairwick, New York. Callie McFay has spent her life sharing her knowledge of supernatural creatures in literature, and something about the town draws her in. She is also captivated by an old Victorian home in the area, but soon finds there is something more to her love of the house than she realized. Callie has a demon lover, a man made of shadow who comes to her in her dreams and sucks her life breath in exchange for the love they share, and while she realizes the danger of their affair, she must find a way to separate her heart.

What I found delightful about this book—besides breathtaking love scenes and settings filled with beautiful detail—was the collection of other mythical creatures Callie finds in Fairwick. Callie learns a lot about herself as well as her supernatural studies through these people, and the relationships between the characters are natural and well-portrayed. In truth, when I finished the book and realized it was the start of a series, I decided I might very well have found my next Sookie Stackhouse collection. The difference between Charlaine Harris and Juliet Dark, however, is tremendous. Callie’s tale sits closer to the dark, gothic world of Thornfield Hall in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (another favorite!) than that of Sookie’s Louisiana world, and her story is far more serious.

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. I am a slow reader, but I found myself reading it everywhere—on the cardio machines at the gym, at stoplights, standing in lines, and for an hour or two every night—because the world Goodman/Dark creates is so detailed. She is an author able to make characters out of setting, breathing life into things as simple as snow, wind, and plant life, and thus it is no wonder I found myself as seduced by the shadowed incubus as poor Callie.

I highly recommend this one, folks. For now, I’m off to pre-order the second book.

Happy reading! 🙂

Hacksaws, FRINGE, and Some Darn Good Books

One of the upsides to my current once-a-week blog schedule is that I’m finding myself stocked up on things to talk about! Picture me as the little kid with my cheeks poofed, holding my breath all week long to say something… 🙂

First item: Hacksaws

A hacksaw would be the metaphorical utility I’m using to edit the crap out of Kyresa. Somehow I’m still working on it (!), but I’m having a good time. I noticed at some point that Kyresa had started sighing too much. They say some of your traits appear in your characters, and I’m a sigher in real life—less because I’m a romantic than because I tend to over-analyze and think too hard—but this is clearly not an acceptable trait for a powerful, immortal Queen. Nope, nope, nope. So, we had a long pep talk, and now she’s a much stronger character. Phew!

I’d also like to share this nifty editing software my friend passed along, SmartEdit, which helps you track overused words, phrases, adverbs, etc. You name it, this program will find your errors and blow your mind with your redundancies. The catch? It only runs on PCs. I myself run on a Mac platform, but fortunately my netbook is a PC, so after a few file transfers…boom! I learned that my real-life tendency to smile all the time is getting a little old in my characters. “Find and replace” is currently my best friend, and I’m delighted to report that so far, between an ending change, some general cleanup, and my recent obsession with tightening up my manuscript, I’ve cut Kyresa from 111,400 words down to 98,400! I’m not done yet, but I’m thrilled with this progress. THRILLED.

Second item: FRINGE

I am fairly intrinsically motivated, but I like a good reward on occasion. My latest “gift” has been one episode of Fringe a night after I reach my editing quota. At 22 episodes per season and four episodes to catch up on, you might imagine this has taken me an extraordinarily long time—it has! But it’s been such a great reward, and now I can’t wait for the fifth and final season to start in the fall!

If you haven’t checked out this incredibly intelligent Sci-Fi series, please do. I’ve talked to a couple people who said they started but couldn’t get into it, and it’s my belief that Fringe takes a few (read: four or five) episodes to get completely sucked in—unless you’re a Sci-Fi person, in which case I suspect you’ll be in by Episode 2. Fringe follows the FBI’s Fringe Division, a super secret department responsible for solving unusual and otherworldly cases. They might involve radically unknown toxins, strange disasters, shape shifters and DNA mutations, telepathy, or even trips to another universe! In fact, there’s a whole element of this other universe flowing beautifully through Fringe, and it’s quite fascinating. What’s thrilling about this show is that it’s not just about the Sci-Fi elements (which are indeed spectacular) but also about the dynamic between the four main characters. Anna Torv plays Olivia Dunham, a uniquely talented FBI agent who partners with an offbeat genius scientist, Walter Bishop (played by John Noble) and his wickedly clever son, Peter (played by Joshua Jackson). Jasika Nicole plays Astrid Farnsworth, a big-hearted FBI agent who assists Walter in his research. Walter and Peter Bishop have a touching father-son relationship, which is complicated by a serious faux-pas Walter committed in the past. It is this very faux-pas that creates many of the Sci-Fi elements of the series (that I cannot describe without giving away the geniusness of this show), and which forces them to work through several definite tangles. Meanwhile, Astrid and Walter have a kind closeness, sharing some really lovely moments as she helps him—a once-committed, wild scientist—work through the cases. Anna Torv as Olivia is the most complex of all; she’s a strong agent who works through the cases with ease, but she must also shuffle through the trauma of her youth which makes her so essential to these cases. At first she comes off a bit flat, but as you go through the series—wow. Her range proves to be completely astounding as the story unfolds. As-tound-ing!

Add a little romance, some good special effects, and a bit of clever dialogue to these stellar characters and you have one of my favorite shows of all time. The only negative thing I can say is that the show ends after season 5. Boo!

Third Item: Darn Good Books

I finished a book and started a book this week. Currently, I’m about 100 pages into Stephen King’s On Writing, and it’s great. I can’t wait to share more after I’m done!

The book I finished is preparation for the fall semester, when I become the Math-English teaching hybrid. (I feel a Sci Fi story here. Truly.) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is well-written and sweet, and narrated by Christopher John Francis Boone. Christopher is an autistic teen who leads you through his investigation of the “curious incident,” one that also happens to carry through the relationship between him and his father, as well as the connection between his parents. Christopher is an intelligent young man, and Haddon’s portrayal of his eccentricities is pure brilliance. Haddon worked with autistic individuals in his past, and his empathy shows on every page. Christopher is lovable, clever, and detailed, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in his adventure. It’s also a great experience to follow the mind of someone in his shoes—it really makes you reevaluate the way you look at the world. I highly recommend it!

All right, the little girl pushed her fingers into her cheeks, expelling all the intel she’d held for the week for this one information-packed blog post! 😉 Now time for some more editing.

Hacksaw at the ready!

What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

—From Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

I’ve been editing my WIP, Kyresa, for the last time (and yes, I really mean it!). Since it is a fantasy book, it has a collection of unusual names, as do many of the books I read in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres. Add to that my plethora of friends with wildly interesting names, and I got to thinking—what’s in a name?

Parents often spend months coming up with a suitable list of names for their soon-to-be-born, one that will need to stick with the child as she grows up, takes on her own unique traits, and eventually becomes who and what she is as a person. So how is it that parents pick the perfect name?

And in a similar manner, how is it that we, as authors, pick our characters’ names?

We almost have an easier task, I think: we have a vision for a character, a set of traits, experiences, and journeys already in mind as we set about to write, and from this we can choose a name to match. Sometimes, we may already know the name in advance—and like the choosing of a baby name before parents know anything about their child, somehow, the name tends to fit. (And if it doesn’t, we can always change it later without the hassle of legal paperwork. Thank goodness!)

When I write, I usually have a vision of a character and then suddenly the name just comes out on paper. I really can’t explain how this happens—I see the character doing A, B, or C, and start typing, and then suddenly said character’s name is right there, typed in front of me. Usually, the name sticks. If nothing’s called to me immediately, the name will be a placeholder. I won’t lie—[the chick], [sassafras], and [what’s his face] have been used as temporary holds before. 🙂 Still, it’s generally pretty rare for me to not feel the rush of a suitable name. Even rarer is a name change—Kyresa actually underwent a slight change a year ago, requiring me to undo over a decade of pronouncing her name the old way as I talked about her character. That was tough. But tougher was finding a new name for a character I’d known so long. (Envision post-its with different spellings of names all over the house for a month and you’ve nailed the experience.)

Since I usually feel the name as I write, I suppose that explains how parents can look at their newborn and know the name they’ve chosen is the right one. So I’m curious—how do you pick names for your characters? Do you flip through baby books, or keep a catalog of names alphabetically? Do you sound out syllables until they match the feeling you have for the character? Or, do you simply drop them on the page like I do, changing them only if they conflict with your vision of the character?

Please feel free to share your methods in the comment section below. Whether it be for baby names or character names, how do you smell a rose? 🙂

On Writing Detail…Or, Observations of a Coffee Shop

A writer does many things, but one of the most important acts of writing is detail, whether it be the detail in setting, dialogue, characters, or the action carrying the plot. Being able to observe thus becomes a handy writer’s skill, since the most random of observations can spark an idea, a character, or a scene that we tend to excitedly and passionately write down.

My colleague friend mentioned that she thought writers in coffee shops were intriguing—seeing as how they’re observing all the people and sounds—and the idea soon landed me in the cushiest of brown chairs at one of my local Starbucks. In honor of my friend’s comment, I thought I’d practice the art of observation today. Whether I gain a clever new character to add to a future story or simply convey the mysterious clientele of an overly populated coffee chain, then the experience feels like good practice, and one I recommend to anyone to improve observation of detail in the sights, sounds, and smells around us.

On the occasion I decide to play the writer-in-the-coffee-shop game, I usually pick this Starbucks. I prefer it for many reasons: the staff is friendly, the drinks are consistent, and—since I’m like most American women with any pulse at all—I appreciate that members of the city fire department often stop by…because they make me feel safe. (I swear.) <Cough.>

Back to the task at hand. To my left is a women of about fifty, her dark skin covered in freckles and a skinny beige textbook resting in her lap. She rubs her chin as she ponders her reading, steadily erasing in her notebook as she works on what appears to be a math assignment. (Since I’m a math teacher by day, I find this detail particularly amusing.) The woman scribbles on her notebook in neat little rows, each character written with perfect penmanship despite her numerous erase marks and her repeated interruptions to stroke her chin. Soon she switches to touching her abalone shell earrings before frowning, then meticulously erases again. I’m half-tempted to offer to help her with the problems, but she breaks her studies to answer her phone, speaking in a quiet, monotone voice. I wonder why she might be taking classes at this point in her life and assume she’s probably had a lot of life experience before embarking on further education. Perhaps she has a family at home with six kids, each of them dragging their feet as they made their way to adulthood, and now that they’ve finally moved out it’s her turn to go back to school. Or, maybe she needs to improve her skill set for a job, and her employer threatened to replace her with the younger, peppier staffer he just hired last week if she didn’t.

There are a variety of ideas that spring to mind as she peeks curiously in my direction, but I coyly glance to the counter so as not to stare.

A man donning grey weathered cargo pants with several chains dangling off the sides just got in line, his bottom half oddly contrasting the white collared, button-up shirt that he’s closed clear up to his neck. He wears a black embroidered baseball cap and talks to the baristas with a random high-pitched laugh. These sorts of conflicting details often make for the most intrigue in a character, and when he turns to face the rest of the cafe, he scans over us with uncomfortably pinched blue eyes. He folds his wallet and slips it back into his left pocket, the lines in his forehead forming a multitude of zigzagging rows, and then sneaks away to the bathroom where his female companion emerges. She brushes back her black cropped hair, then plays with the zipper on her white hooded sweatshirt and speaks to him as he closes the door. Her candy-colored lips move in a lazy speech and I hear, “I don’t think so,” among a few other inaudible sentences, to which the man casually shuts the door with a roll of those startling eyes. Once he exits they scoot out of the shop as quickly as they came in, sending a grumpy scowl at one another when they pass a man at a window table.

This man wears a multi-colored beanie and a pair of earphones that he tugs at with a smile, his posture behind his laptop more relaxed than that of most anyone in here. He taps his foot to his music against his bag, its contents strewn casually on the floor. So into his music, he barely notices the sounds of the coffee grinding and brewing, the gentle whirring sound of the milk as it’s steamed, the baristas talking about the fact that someone named Kim didn’t show up for her shift on time and how Alex is going to “fire her ass,” or the fact that the woman behind him just knocked the last of her coffee onto the floor, the liquid making a slow drip, drip, drip onto the dirty gray tile just behind him…

The man bops his head, adjusting his cap once, twice; he stops typing to read what’s in front of him on the screen. His green-grey eyes scan the view, then he types again, reads, and types before glancing at me. We smile at one another, then go back to our respective computers. Perhaps he’s a professional working on a presentation, or a teacher typing his lesson plan, or a student working on a paper—or perhaps he’s a writer just like me, observing everything around him, jotting it down, committing it to memory, and playing with these details as the basis for a character for the next piece, while a little nondescript folk rock plays through the speakers overhead.

One can never tell if the characters observed are something to write from, but the process of digesting all these details is always a good practice for any writer, novelist, poet, or journalist alike.

For the moment, I might offer to help the woman next to me as I take the last few sips of my tea….

…but it looks like the fire truck just pulled into the parking lot.

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