07 July 2006

Infodump Assumptions

I've been wondering about exposition recently, particularly exposition of the infodump variety, wherein an author needs to convey a lot of information and does so by coming out and stating it. Telling vs. showing. Choosing efficiency over subtlety.

Here are some ideas, questions, and assumptions about exposition that could be entirely wrong, because I haven't really analyzed them very hard, but perhaps they will spark some discussion. I've numbered them for easy reference, not linearity.

1. It seems to me that an aversion to exposition in fiction may be a 20th century thing. Earlier literatures seemed more comfortable with it than 20th century literatures. If this assumption is correct, does the new aversion come from a move toward more verisimilitude in writing?

2. Why do infodumps feel unrealistic to us, particularly in dialogue? Much of what we say every day is expository. But transcribed into dialogue in a story, most of our expository conversations would feel unrealistic.

3. Does a foregrounding of psychology rather than action in a story reduce the challenges of exposition? If we're deep inside, for instance, Mrs. Dalloway's mind are we less concerned about expository lumps than if we're reading about Mrs. Dalloway's adventures in time and space? It could be that the tangential and associational writing associated with the representation of a mind undercuts the need or desire for straightforward exposition. But probably only if the setting and situation are ones that a general audience can be assumed to have some familiarity with. If Mrs. Dalloway were thinking about buying flowers on the planet Xsgha, where the riuGsj splort the frunktiplut, the need for some sort of exposition would increase. But would it look different as exposition because we're so deep inside Mrs. D's brain than it would were we following her from a more objective viewpoint?

4. Are we more accepting of straight-out exposition in comedy than in drama?

5. If a narrative is obviously not trying to be realistic, why do we care if the exposition isn't "realistic"?

6. Is exposition a problem of point of view and tone rather than a problem in and of itself? (Is exposition a problem? That and why? are the metaquestions here, I guess.)

7. What is an example of a novel, story, or movie that is full of exposition and handles it with great subtlety? What is an example of a novel, story, or movie that is full of infodumps and it doesn't bother the reader/viewer?