As I began my current read-in-progress, Anvil of Tears (Full review coming soon), a loud beeping noise kept interrupting the story. What was that noise, you ask? It was the dump truck backing up and unloading page after page of expository information in front of me.
Action before Explanation
There’s a mantra that I continually hear from professional authors: Act first, Explain later.
A reader will wait a long time for an explanation as long as something interesting is going on. Seems simple enough, yet I know from personal experience that exposition is a siren song luring you away from the action. There’s this persistent belief that the reader needs to know a bulk of background detail in order to understand a given scene or character. When you spot this on the page as a reader, it’s easy to see how false that is. In fact, it can lead to page skimming, or worse, page skipping just to get back to the story.
Ways to avoid this pitfall
Weave backstory in a little at a time. A sentence here. A sentence there. Kind of like pepper but be careful. Too much and it makes things inedible.
Dialogue is another good tool to weave in backstory. Even better if it’s in an argument. Conflict is always interesting. The reader gets background info without even noticing it, which is key.
I do my best to pay attention to this in my own writing, but even so, on revision I always come across a paragraph block of backstory that needs to go. Kind of like cleaning the backyard after a week of letting the dog out there at night. You always think you got it all but somehow there’s a dump or two you missed.
Want more on this topic? Here’s a great article: http://killzoneblog.com/2014/08/avoiding-tar-pits-of-fiction.html