Exposition is where you explain things to the reader in the text. It’s a necessary part of storytelling to help the reader understand what’s going on in a story, especially when it comes to stuff the reader won’t automatically know. The MC might work for a government department and the reader needs to know what the department does, so you have to find a way to get that info to them. When handled badly it can read very clunky.
But there is also another expositional technique that gives the reader information in a very high impact and emotional manner. This is where you reveal something that the reader is able to convert into an understanding of the situation without you having to explain it.
As an example, let’s say Debbie’s dating Gary, a soldier. He calls her and admits he’s been cheating on her and has fallen for the other woman and wants to break up with Debbie. Debbie is obviously livid. She vows to get her own back. Sometime later she bumps into an old army buddy of Gary’s and decides to sleep with him to spite Gary (this is fiction—obviously women don’t do this sort of thing in real life). She goes back to his place and sees a photo of him and his army pals. Gary’s in the picture. In a wheelchair.
So, the point is she realises the real reason Gary dumped her wasn’t because he was cheating on her, but it isn’t spelled out. Exactly how obvious or subtle you handle placing this information in front of the reader is a matter of personal judgement. In the case of something like a murder mystery you may not want the ramifications to be clear until much later.
Now, Debbie could have found out about Gary’s well-meaning deception in a much more direct manner. Her friend Brenda could have just called up and said: Hey, you know how you thought Gary was cheating on you? Turns out what actually happened was... etc.
The effect on Debbie would be pretty much the same, but the effect on the reader would be far less impactful.
However, even though you don’t want to spell things out immediately, you do want to go into the details of what this revelation means to Debbie, both in how she feels and what she does. So her ringing Brenda after she sees the photo to talk about the effect it had on her (including how she find out) is not only okay, it’s recommended. Once the reader has been sideswiped by a sudden realisation, you want to follow up with a nice big emotional punch in the face.
In order to use this technique in your own writing all you have to do is find somewhere in your story where a character discovers some new piece of information and then work out a way for them to make that discovery visually. Not that you can’t do it through dialogue, but if you do it through what a character sees, then you can be pretty sure the reader will draw conclusions in tandem with them.Bonus points if you know what Cary just figured out.
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