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Author Topic: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?  (Read 2301 times)

Offline AlmightyZael

Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« on: September 23, 2016, 10:29:37 PM »
So, with a lot of fantasy books, exposition can be a real issue. Things have to be explained, concepts made clear and all that jazz.

Now, I personally like it when an author uses little snippets of poems or novels from within their universe to head each chapter. It expands the lore of their work, without it taking up too much time or getting in the way of the action. Sometimes it can be a simple line from a play, or even a real-world quote that hints at the ramifications of what is to come in the chapter that follows.

In fact, I'm guilty of this in my own writing because I like to imagine that the depth of a story comes from its world, and that world doesn't house only the characters we explicitly read about. It kinda makes it feel like when I put the book down, those people are still living their lives even though I'm not there.

I will say that exposition done correctly doesn't even need to do this, as all of this will come about in a natural way within the story. A great example of this is Pat Rothfuss' Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear.

However, I know that this view isn't necessarily gonna be shared by everyone, so let's talk about it. Do you like it or not? Reasons?

Also, good examples of it could be included if you know any. Steven Erikson's Malazan series uses this particularly well, and if I recall correctly Joe Abercrombie uses it, too. I'm sure there are more that I'm forgetting.
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Offline m3mnoch

Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2016, 11:05:09 PM »
me, personally, i'm not a fan.  i tolerate it, but half the time i skip them so i can get back to the story.

i've discovered that i read for the characters and the sparks that fling when they are thrown into crazy situations with other people/places/things.  i enjoy the emergent storytelling.  i love, love, love rolling those moments around my mouth like so much cabernet -- especially when the writing is vivid, but well-paced and subtle, but punctuated.  the contemporary.  the conflict.  the inhalation as it ends.  not the long, windy history of how we got here because,  obviously, i just LIVED the most important part.

so, yeah, not a lore guy.

sure, for where i need context to understand points of a moment, but i don't need "the bad god is bad because he tortured a thousand virgins for a thousand years."  i read that as "blah, blah, blah, he's the bad god.  got it.  next."

i'm a short-cut-seeking pattern-matcher.  i blame years of game design.

i'm also one of those guys who spam-clicks "next, next, next" on the npc dialog in an rpg game.  "kill ten rats?  alrighty."

so, you know.  ymmv.

Offline Lanko

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2016, 11:10:05 PM »
Yea, what m3m said.

God, I hated so much the Bayaz chapters in Before They Are Hanged. Sometimes Logen and Ferro traded some words, a little battle once in a while, but all that was just obviously there to not make his chapters look like a 10 page monologue about the world's backstory. And this kept going throughout the entire book, beginning to end.
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Offline Peat

Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2016, 11:40:13 PM »
I like my lore. But I like it to be in there as organically as possible. If there's a couple of pages of just exposition, or description, there's a good chance I flick over it.

If it can't be organic, I prefer it to be entertaining. I'll read every Pratchett footnote.

Little quotes at the start of chapters can be good. Heart of Granite: Blood and Fire had that. I read all the quotes by the MC, because they amused me. All the scientific ones sorta slipped me by because they weren't amusing. But hey - I'm not going to hate a book just because they're there, but they can make it if they're really good.
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Offline m3mnoch

Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2016, 12:06:09 AM »
But hey - I'm not going to hate a book just because they're there, but they can make it if they're really good.

this is a super-important note.  i totally won't hate on a book just for including exposition dumps that are neatly cordoned off into prologue or something where i can skim/skip.

so, overall, that'll avoid making it a detriment to have lots of lore.

Offline Lanko

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2016, 12:23:59 AM »
But hey - I'm not going to hate a book just because they're there, but they can make it if they're really good.

this is a super-important note.  i totally won't hate on a book just for including exposition dumps that are neatly cordoned off into prologue or something where i can skim/skip.

so, overall, that'll avoid making it a detriment to have lots of lore.

Yea, despite what I said about the chapters featuring Bayaz, I still liked BTAH very much, but at the same time they were the main thing preventing it from being good to really good or near perfect.
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Offline Nora

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2016, 12:59:21 AM »
I recently read an article about those, can't remember where, but the gist was to NEVER include those in your manuscript to an agent or editor as they are NOT part of the story.

On such things I'm odd.

If it's poetry I'll hardly bother to read it if it's more than 2 lines. If it's a real world quote, I might read it but probably won't enjoy many of those and probably won't remember them in the story.

But then my perfect quote/lore example comes from The Divine Cities series by Bennett Jackson.

He has sometimes very long quotes (easily 200+ words I think), but they come from sacred texts from the world, or academic papers by that guy whose death drives the whole plot of City of Stairs.
They are fascinating because they cast some light into the concepts of the world, and also act as places to hide clues!
It was well done and I read them with great curiosity each time.

I don't think I'd ever include any in my work.
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Offline AlmightyZael

Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2016, 02:18:17 AM »

They are fascinating because they cast some light into the concepts of the world, and also act as places to hide clues!


This is pretty much what I meant. I know sometimes authors throw in a good few paragraphs, but the ones I really like are the two or three lines of history. Or even simple statements from characters within the world.

"The point of no return, in retrospect, came when Altero's daughter was given as sacrifice." - Made up name/made up book

Those kindsa things I love!
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2016, 04:59:02 AM »
The old gnomic utterances, eh, Zael? It depends on the book. Sometimes I quite like them. I thought Myke Cole did them really well in Control Point. I like how Cat Valente used them in the Fairyland books, but what doesn't Cat do well? I put them in my Realmspace novels, but I'm not sure they're as successful.
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Offline Peat

Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2016, 05:07:03 AM »
That sounds like something GGK would write, although without attribution straight in the text; he's very given to his omniscient narrator frame-setting like that. I quite like it; its quick, effective, amusing, and gives us another view of the story - how it is remembered.

Something that does these top of chapter quotes very well is Echoes of the Great Song by Gemmell. They're all quotes from a story told in world of the events you're reading, but from a very mythological perspective. I just love reading them in their own right. I have flicked through the book just re-reading those little quotes before.There was another book I was going to namecheck as doing this right but, err, I've forgotten. Ahh! Robert Rankin's Armageddon: The Musical.

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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2016, 08:20:33 AM »
I like my lore. But I like it to be in there as organically as possible. If there's a couple of pages of just exposition, or description, there's a good chance I flick over it.

If it can't be organic, I prefer it to be entertaining. I'll read every Pratchett footnote.

Little quotes at the start of chapters can be good.
This reflects my opinion too (thanks Peat).
(just I wouldn't necessarily flick over it, but it would reduce the book in my eyes)
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2016, 08:26:56 AM »
I like that sort of thing, so long as it adds value. I don't like obvious exposition-dumps anywhere. I think the key is it needs to be insightful to the reader, more than anything.

Echoing previous comments, the best use of this is to provide mini-hooks that don't provide answers (exposition), but instead tease questions, provide some foreshadowing, or other forward-looking tidbits. One of my favorites read something like this:

"I must be careful what I write for fear of summary execution."- Sorcerer so-and-so, Tome of His Experiences.

I think it's the perfect approach to quoting peripheral characters, particularly villains and their henchmen, who don't get many scene appearances, or when they do, they're not offering commentary. These types often have an interesting and very different perspective.
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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2016, 08:36:45 AM »
Hmm I like to add a small exposition at the beginning of many of my chapters. It's mostly due to the nature of my novel, however. I like to write many of my chapters around a particular theme-- almost like a commentary on the nature of humanity and what people are capable of. I suppose it depends on the novel/story.

Offline DrNefario

Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2016, 10:31:38 AM »
Epigraph is the technical term, I think.

Offline Nora

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Re: Exposition at the start of each chapter. Yes or no?
« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2016, 12:17:15 PM »

They are fascinating because they cast some light into the concepts of the world, and also act as places to hide clues!


This is pretty much what I meant. I know sometimes authors throw in a good few paragraphs, but the ones I really like are the two or three lines of history. Or even simple statements from characters within the world.

"The point of no return, in retrospect, came when Altero's daughter was given as sacrifice." - Made up name/made up book

Those kindsa things I love!

What I meant was deeper in meaning and explanation. A book like City of Stairs covers such a strong concept with his divinities that we truly benefit from long expositions like these :

Quote
And Olvos said to them: “Why have you done this, my children? Why is the sky wreathed with smoke? Why have you
made war in far places, and shed blood in strange lands?”
And they said to Her: “You blessed us as Your people, and we rejoiced, and were happy. But we found those who were
not Your people, and they would not become Your people, and they were willful and ignorant of You. They would not
open their ears to Your songs, or lay Your words upon their tongues. So we dashed them upon the rocks and threw down
their houses and shed their blood and scattered them to the winds, and we were right to do so. For we are Your people.
We carry Your blessings. We are Yours, and so we are right. Is this not what You said?”
And Olvos was silent
.
—BOOK OF THE RED LOTUS, PART IV, 13.51–13.59

This is the first thing your read about as you start the book, and it's pointless... until a bit further in, when suddenly you're reminded of Olvo's peculiarity, as a deity.

The second chapter starts with this :

Quote
Even today, after we have attempted so much research and recovered so many artifacts, we still have no visual concept
of what they looked like. All the sculptures, paintings, murals, bas-reliefs, and carvings render the figures either indistinct
or incoherently. For in one depiction Kolkan appears as a smooth stone beneath a tree; and in another, a dark mountain
against the bright sun; and in yet another, a man made of clay seated on a mountain. And these inconsistent portrayals
are still a great improvement over others, which render their subjects as a vague pattern or color hanging in the air, no
more than the stroke of a brush: for example, if we are to take the Continent’s ancient art at its word, the Divinity Jukov
mostly appeared as a storm of starlings

As in so many of these studies, it is difficult to conclude anything from such disparate scraps. One must wonder if the
subjects of these works of art actually chose to present themselves this way. Or, perhaps, the subjects were experienced in
a manner that was impossible to translate in conventional art

Perhaps no one on the Continent ever quite knew what they were seeing. And now that the Divinities are gone, we
might never know

Time renders all people and all things silent. And gods, it seems, are no exception

—“THE NATURE OF CONTINENTAL ART,”
DR. EFREM PANGYUI

Efrem Pangyui is the dead scholar whose demise is the start and motor of the story, and through his academic work we learn a lot about the divine and the continental people that populate the book, but also more about him, the dead man whose absence makes the story.
These are not cryptic quotes, yet they remain fascinating, and completely folded in the story.

Now however, I also find the quotes by Crichton very good, in Jurassic Park especially.

They are quotes by book-character Ian Malcolm on Chaos mathematics, and get gloomier and tenser as the book unfolds, while being mathematically correct.





This is missing the quotes but you get the idea.
I find this neat, because there are chapters in JP where everything seems to be tidying up, getting better and the characters are getting a grip on the situation, but you still start a chapter by a doom-sey quote from Malcolm's chaos theory and a fractal figure. It adds pressure to the whole thing.
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