‘Show Don’t Tell’ Handling Exposition, Backstory and POV

Stories do not come out of a void. There is much the reader needs to know about the time, the setting, the characters and past events to enjoy and make sense of the story. How to handle this mass of detail, called exposition? Some storytellers write it on the nose ― setting down facts about background, characters and events like a newspaper report. Others use awkward and unnatural contrivances. This workshop shows how exposition may be woven into the fabric of the story so the reader is scarcely aware of being given essential information and will show how any writer may master the technique of elucidating exposition.

The workshop will also cover Point of View (POV) focussing on the three most common – first person; third person omniscient; third person proximate – showing the kind of story for which each POV is most appropriate.

Course Structure

  • What is exposition?
  • What is backstory?
  • How to reveal what you want to reveal; what isn’t obvious; what cannot be inferred; what the reader absolutely needs to know
  • Understanding the principle – ‘show don’t tell’?  How to evoke rather than invoke.
  • When should the writer tell rather than show?
  • Using exposition as ammunition
  • Writing in scenes
  • Knowing when to reveal – ‘in media res’
  • Knowing the theme of your story
  • Exercising caution with analogy and symbolism; the subtle use of metaphor and simile.
  • What POV best suits the novel and its purposes.

© John Harman 2011