Editing Tip #85 – Avoiding the Repetition of Exposition

We’ve all done it, something intrinsic to our story happens and different groups of people need to know about it; so, for the sake of the story we find ourselves repeating information the reader already knows – just to get the characters up to speed.

There’s an effective way of doing this without risking your characters missing out on important stuff and keeping your reader interested:

It’s the ol’ bait & switch method.

Take all the necessary time to show us what happens at that all-so-important moment so that the reader can feel apart of the narrative.

Then, when other characters need to be let in on what happened…

Bait the reader (and the characters) with one of those suspenseful moments where your narrator frets or believes the worst or has no idea how this person will react to XXXXX.

Then switch over to the end of the explanation.

That’s right, show us the reaction of the other character if that’s intrinsic for your reader to know, and simply sum it all up.

For example:

I had to tell Maureen what happened last night, how could I not? Regardless, this wasn’t going to be easy for either of us. I sat her down in her mother’s rocking chair by the fire in our living room, knelt down before her and held her hands.

“Just for a moment, I need you to ignore everything you think you know…” And I laid it all out for her.

Her face remained impassive the entire time but her eyes… now they spoke volumes from anger, to fear to anguish until finally I couldn’t read them at all.

“Reeny, Honey.” I stroked the back of her hand. “Say something.”

You’ll notice that I didn’t go over in detail what happened ‘last night’ – what would have caused Maureen’s eyes to show all of those emotions the reader would already know about. Now, that’s not to say that you couldn’t remind us a little of what happened if the incident from last night took place four or five chapters ago – but you definitely wouldn’t need to re-tell us everything.

It’s important to watch out for these structural hick-ups in your narrative. You don’t want to risk boring your reader but you also don’t want to confuse them either. It may take a few drafts to get this just right, but once you’ve adjusted something like this in your work a few times it’ll become second nature when self-editing future works.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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2 replies

  1. Great example. I read a book not too long ago where three chapters or more were dedicated to getting characters up to speed. It made the story drag. Everywhere this character went he had to go over the same story. She didn’t even summarize it.


    • I hear ya Toni πŸ˜‰
      For some emerging writers or writers who don’t often get to attend workshops or take courses this is one of those ‘honing your craft’ things that is sometimes hard to accept. However, once a writer embraces this notion he actually frees up so much more room to expand on more important things πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

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