Last week we talked about the basic construction of a plot, The Great Pyramid. This week we’ll be talking about the exposition.
To summarize, an exposition is the beginning – the introduction – of a novel. Here is where you hook your readers. Another word for it is “chapter one.” 😉
Note: exposition doesn’t always happen in chapter one, as my friend Lana pointed out. However, you should introduce the main plot in the first 10% of the novel.
I wrote a quick example of a first chapter, mostly for fun,
and because I like showing off my writing.
My example exposition:
“Are we there yet?” Jessa whimpered, dragging her feet along the ground. She shoved her dark hair out of her light green eyes with both hands. Her mother had decided to grow out her bangs, and the half-grown locks kept escaping from their clips.
“Just a bit longer, baby, just a bit longer,” her mother replied. “Come on; keep up!”
Jessa’s annoyance and self-pity deepened. A five-year-old shouldn’t be forced to walk such a long way! Why, they’d left their horse behind nearly – she glanced back – five yards behind them.
“I promise it’ll be worth it,” the Queen Alici assured her. Jessa sighed. Her mother must be wrong about that. Nothing was worth bouncing around for half an hour on the top of that big, frightening horse. Why couldn’t she have taken Havi, Jessa’s big sister, instead? Havi was seven; Havi was the crowned princess; Havi was the pretty one. Besides, seven-year-olds don’t have such short legs as five-year-olds.
The sun filtered through the green leaves above, creating a beautiful pattern on the queen’s golden hair, her white skin. They stepped out into a little clearing with a stream trickling through it. She turned to her daughter.
“Jessa … promise me you won’t tell anyone about what I’m going to show you today.”
She thought about this for a minute before replying. “I won’t. I promise,” she whispered sincerely.
“All right, then. Don’t be frightened.” She raised her right hand to the sky and closed her eyes.
Jessa jumped back with a little screech when her mother’s fingertips began to glow yellow. Butterflies swirled around the queen, resting on her hair, her clothing. A gentle breeze rushed forward and wove around her, bending the grass in her direction, and, with a snap of her fingers, a cloud above her swirled into the shape of a flower.
Realization came over Jessa, and in that moment she knew that her life could never be the same, for not only had the queen discovered something marvelous, but she had chosen to share it with her.
Alici was gifted.
What did I [try to] introduce in this short first chapter?
- The main character, Jessa. Granted, she’s a lot younger than she will be in the rest of the novel, but she’s still the main character. Jessa is skeptical and serious. Because she’s not as pretty as her big sister, Havi, she’s already trying to find a place as “the sensible one.”
- The setting. A fantasy kingdom called Killeen. It’s a monarchy; it’s heavily forested; it’s sunny and warm there. Ok, maybe you can’t glean that much from that little bit.
- Writing style. This isn’t such a big deal, or as easy to see, but all writers have a voice, a style of writing, and
- A hook, hopefully. (Why did the queen ask Jessa not to tell anyone? Why did she choose to tell Jessa and not her older daughter, Havi? Why is Jessa special?)
The hook is most important. Though, naturally, you want all of your novel to be great, spend a lot of time on the beginning when editing. That’s what I did (though the first chapter in The Dressmaker’s Secret really has too much description).
- Does it draw the reader in from sentence one?
- Does it pull the reader into your setting?
- Does it introduce the main character in a favorable light?
I would definitely say that those are the most important things when it comes to writing expositions.
Note: David B. Hunter says, One thing I’d add to your list is the need to have an implicit question in that first sentence. Which, in your example could be, “Where is Jessa going?” That’s also important. I’ve got to remember that …