My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.
E: The Art of Exposition
Her eyelids fluttered, then scrunched up as she made a face and rolled over. The sun’s eager rays were not precisely her favorite means of awakening. But I have awakened, and as such is the case…
She sat up, eyes wide, only to find her solar almost devoid of courtiers. It was dim by comparison with the sun’s splendor, and she squinted to discern the visage of her hero. He must have come. ‘Twas the only way the spell would be broken and…ah. She smiled as she beheld the young man, helmet in hand, standing somewhat uncertainly along the wall. “Noble sir, you have done the Royal House of Stelvia a great honor, and you have the sincere gratitude of Princess Mural.”
“I…really didn’t do anything.”
Truly, my father was right that great warriors let their actions be their boast. She took another, more careful look at the knight in her presence. His skin was of a darkened hue, as though he’d traveled through the very depths of the earth to come to her rescue. But none but he know what trials he has suffered for my sake. What enemies, even now, beset the castle. “How did you come here, sir knight?”
The young man looked at her for a moment, opened his mouth and then shut it without uttering a sound.
Enchantment. He cannot say. “Might you at least tell me whether there is a breach in the outer wall? If the doors be broken down?”
“The only outer door I encountered could not be opened. The one in the tower. My sister’s on the other side.”
“But…the doors beyond? The portcullis? The drawbridge?”
“I didn’t pass through any of them, if that’s what you’re asking.”
He spoke strangely, but his words were comforting. “One day, I hope to hear the tale of your valor,” she murmured before glancing towards the circle of light in the air that she knew must be her father’s faithful squire. “Go and unlock the tower door, Brisbane.”
Then she swept across the room to sit in a chair along the far wall. It would be the closest to a throne she had, and she did not think herself ready or fit to sit in her father’s, down in the great hall. Not until the realm is safe and I have been crowned queen. She turned to the knight and said, “Do you know if my father yet lives?”
“I haven’t seen anyone.”
She could not give credence to such a statement. “I expected my father, King Masterpiece, to be dead; an attack against his sole daughter and heir could only be preceded by his death, but…Aunt Moral? Uncle Monologue? Cousin Mystery?”
To her utter surprise, the young man laughed. “Those are really their names?”
She looked at him quickly. “You have not heard of any of the Royal Family? Then…how is it you came to my aid?”
“Truly, I don’t know.”
There must be a powerful ally who hath not yet revealed himself. A wizard, perhaps. Setting that matter aside, she said, “I’d be honored to learn your name, sir knight. Though you have not heard of my family, you are from this realm and would have been named accordingly…” She glanced at his armaments, reassured by the presence of a sword at his side. He is of noble birth, despite his ignorance. “But I would not call you Sir M for all the world.”
The young man smiled, and while it suited his countenance, she found it unsettling all the same. “So only those named ‘m-something’ may serve you?”
“Hardly. Brisbane has served my father for years, and many others of equally varying names. But every true noble is named according to the magnificence of their station, as is their right. And it is said that the names of M promote munificence and mercy, tempered by majesty.”
He said nothing to that, undoubtedly knowing the truth of her statement, so she cautiously added, “Would you rather be called Sir M?” The term had once been a degradation, suggesting nobility without family or connections, but this was truly a strange knight.
“No. I…well, my sister calls me Kai. So I guess you may call me Sir Kai.”
She frowned. The last and only Sir Kay she had ever heard of had not distinguished himself with arms and wisdom, nor was he deserving of worship. But he does not say such is his true name, so perhaps he uses the title to conceal his birth until the time for revelation has come. “Very well, Sir Kai. You are welcome here, along with your sister.”
Exposition is the backstory of a novel–all the stuff you need a reader to know for the story to make sense. In this case, I wanted to introduce the Princess Mural, indicate some of the customs of her time, and also provide some details about the peril she’s in.
But having her be the one to tell us about everything isn’t necessarily the best way. Some of what she says (like her elaboration about her family and the way every noble is named “M-something”) only works because she is from an age where longer explanations was expected and tolerated, where formality was much more common.
However, by putting the scene in her perspective, I was able to smuggle in a greater understanding of things from her point of view–how she expects wizards and enchantment to appear in life, her concerns for the castle and her country, and her desire that order be maintained. It also gives readers their first glimpse of what Mordekai looks like and lets us see him as she does, which can help provide a more complex picture of him as a person.
As I examined in this article I wrote a few months back, there are four main ways to reveal backstory, and the trick with doing it through dialogue is to make sure it fits the characters and is something they’d truly say…and not just stuff we, as the author, want to convey to the readers.
Until the next letter,
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo courtesy of gratisography