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Synchronizing Exposition with Story

For those who do not know, exposition is where the world/situation/scenario is explained and characters/setting/mood/tone are introduced. This writing will include multiple examples.

In the litRPG writing of many new self-published authors, the breakdown of how the story begins looks like the following:

Prologue (often): Bad/Neutral/Chaos guys do stuff

Introduce main character and how they’re unhappy with their lives (trope’y, also something I’m writing as I like it for my style).

Throw protagonist into strange situation, throw him into a new world, explain the everloving shit out of everything.

The problem with the above example, is there’s no breathing room. The writing isn’t naturally introduced or organically felt by the reader. I had to stop reading The Land, even after trying three times to get through it, because of this horrible writing style. If I wanted to read up on EXACTLY how a system works, and have it unnaturally explained to me time and again, I’d play a video game.

Now I know what you’re thinking, litRPG’s are videogames turned into novels, but there MUST be a better way. I’m working on that better way currently in my first book, should have chapter 2 rough draft published tomorrow. The below examples are how exposition is naturally introduced:

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time style:

Prologue: dude explodes a mountain

Initial chapters: Kids having fun on a farm (tropey 80’s chosen one), the void and the flame helps with archery, mysterious strangers appear.

Post-initial chapters: Attacked by strange monsters, their blood is doing x stuff to weapons (shown, not told), they think this woman may be an Aes Sedai, but it’s not quite explained on what it is.

Jordan killed at exposition as well as slowly introducing the reader to a magic system/world. He slowly builds up his work, allowing the reader to feel comfortable with the settings and relationships, and introduces a ton of mystery that includes a later payoff system for the reader. Everything is inter-related, and everything is answered as the plot moves forward.

David Edding’s The Belgariad style:

Prologue: Eddings wrote a prologue for each book in the series, including it’s follow-up series The Mallorean and two prequels. Each prologue is about the mythology of the world, and the gods (small g) who built it.

Initial chapters: The start of The Belgariad includes a metric ton of foreshadowing. Begins on a farm with a boy who is described as being “very plain”. The main characters of the story, excepting those who are added as the plot pushes forward, are introduced as mysterious characters who slowly introduce the protagonist to the world and their histories.

Post-initial chapters: They remove the protagonist from the farm, under dire circumstances, and slowly inject political circumstances and monarchial intrigue. The world opens up as the characters travel from one location to another, and each scenario further explains the world.

David Eddings, his horrific personal life unmentioned, wrote a story (filled with hidden racism/misogyny), that nonetheless dives you into a unique world filled with monsters, deep philosophical lines, and gods. His book-by-book introduction to further worldbuilding and mythology are well made and easy to follow. I’d consider this series YA fodder, and a archetype for YA Fantasy.

Brandon Sanderon’s Warbreaker story:

I do not recall a prologue.

Initial chapters: The start of the story is in a jail cell. You don’t quite know why he’s there, but then he starts to use his magic and wows the reader with his powers. You get a taste of who he is, and how he holds his current situation in contempt.

Post-initial chapters: The story switches views to the secondary protagonist, and her current betrothal to a “super” god-type character. You get a feel for her sense of duty, what her world requires of her, and a sense of her unique lineage (color-changing hair).

Sanderson likes to throw the reader into confusing situations from the very start. He tends to begin with a strange route through plot, with little explanations, then throws the protagonist into scenarios where their confusion is acceptable and they need some form of tutor. Mistborn did this, as did The Stormlight Archive. He has a set exposition style, and it works for him thus far.

So what changes do we need to see in litRPG? Is it more of the same, a guy randomly thrown into a world where support characters appear and throw eight pages of facts at them? Michael Chatfield’s The Ten Realms litRPG series, while having a plenitude of grammar and repetition issues, at least slowly brings his characters into his world and builds upon their exposition as a form of alpha-male dominance. Solving problems with guns and grins rather than understanding and thought processes (at least until later).

The problem with litRPG is the writers who want to dive into the meat of the story. I stated before, in my writing on the value of exposition, of the need to “cut” the boring scenes per the advice of Orson Scott Card. But maybe we just need better writers, who can make exposition and normalcy fun.

This will be my endeavor tomorrow as I complete chapter two of Creation (working title). Chapter three is somewhat pre-plotted as well.

Wish me luck!

Categories: Discovery and Writing Tips Thoughts and Tips

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I'm a high school English teacher in Texas. I also hold degrees in radiography and radio and television broadcasting. Though I obtained certain knowledge and skills from my prior degrees, I do not currently use them.

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