Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

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lac582
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Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by lac582 » June 10th, 2010, 12:30 am

I'm curious - for those of you who outline before you write, do you only outline the plot or do you also plan in advance when and how you're going to reveal your exposition?

My WIP is science fiction and I'm struggling with slowly peeling off the layers of worldbuilding in "show" vs. necessary info dump in "tell". I need to outline meticulously or I hit walls, and I'm attempting to use Scrivner to organize my thoughts, but I'm having trouble mapping the reveals onto the structure on paper so that it's clear to me as I write out the actual chapters.

Thoughts, tips, other insights?

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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by polymath » June 10th, 2010, 1:25 am

When a narrative reads like a cinematic sightseeing travelogue, I'm not as engaged as I like to be. Settings in my view should be like characters with which viewpoint characters directly or indirectly interact. A soaring skyline is only dramatic if a character will have to climb it, will fall off it, crash into it, or be impaled by it, etc. A primitive longhouse for time, place, and situation (setting's principal attributes) ambience doesn't need much more than interaction of a viewpoint character causally moving around, through, or in it to describe it.

If a setting isn't contributing causally to plot movement, and creating timely empathy and suspense and suprise and antagonism's problems and purposes, it's a white room syndrome of exhaustively detailed stage dressing for sightseeing purposes. One principle I use for settings is are they relevant to plot events. Behind the Iron Curtain is a potentially dramatic setting for a Cold War spy. A rustic community for a beauty queen wanting glamor and limelights is a good setting for showing her dissatisfaction with her homely existence, and so on.

Yes, I plan settings for plot features. My basic facets for outlining scenes include who, what, when, where, why, how, and what will happen. More detailed facets, what's the pivotal event of a scene, the motivations, stakes, emotional states, personalities interacting, and outcomes, ie., what's the reversal, obstacle, setback, letdown, the discovery, the transition from a previous scene and the transition into a next scene. If a setting isn't contributing to one and more of the above, I think I'm sightseeing.

I rigorously avoid exposition, narration, explanation, and summarization by a reporting narrator addressing an audience. DIANE'S SECRET, a mnemonic for the creative writing modes: Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Recollection, Explanation, Transition. in my opinion, they work best if they're reported by a narrator from a central viewpoint character's perspective.
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by HillaryJ » June 10th, 2010, 2:39 am

The short answer is "no". Exposition is not a plot point, and therefore has no place in the kind of outlines I write up. Exposition comes when it fits the plot, when the characters see something that reminds them of the time...or have to do something they haven't done since... I rarely sit around in life thinking about the things I'm interacting with and their origins/history.

When I'm writing-in mysteries, I do take care to arrange the sequences of events so that the exposition related to solving the mystery seems to come out organically. But that's not quite the same thing as exposition.

SF/F worldbuilding is a strange and wonderful thing. It's best, in my opinion, when the characters accept the world they're in (provided they aren't strangers), and reveal parts of it. It's worst when characters talk and think about commonplace things around them, because that's not natural (unless it's a quirk of the world you've built).
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Margo » June 10th, 2010, 10:35 am

I do not plot for exposition, though I may make a note that I need to have x, y & z revealed in this chapter or by this point for something else to make sense in the next chapter or a few chapters later. Hopefully, it won't require a whole lot of exposition, because it is very hard to do it well. I like my exposition best in instances of no more than one or two sentences at a time. Only what is necessary, only when it is necessary.
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Margo » June 10th, 2010, 10:38 am

HillaryJ wrote:SF/F worldbuilding is a strange and wonderful thing. It's best, in my opinion, when the characters accept the world they're in (provided they aren't strangers), and reveal parts of it. It's worst when characters talk and think about commonplace things around them, because that's not natural (unless it's a quirk of the world you've built).
Yeah, I couldn't have expressed it better.

Don't describe your world. Have your characters interact with it.
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by AceTachyon » June 10th, 2010, 11:37 am

Answering as a Plotter: no, I don't

hils and margo said it best. Hearken unto their words.
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Claudie » June 11th, 2010, 1:11 am

I don't plan on exposition either. As it has been said, and quite well, it's best when the world comes through the characters naturally.

What I do at times, however, is list out facts that need to show at point or another for the story to be understandable. There may be some attitudes or legends that are integral to the plot and need to be 'exposed'. I once put those in a checklist, and whenever they were mentioned, I'd scratch it off. If the story revolves around those elements, it shouldn't be hard to imbed them into the novel in a natural way, though.

And Margo put it in the best way possible: "Only what is necessary, only when it is necessary."
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Aimée » June 11th, 2010, 9:50 am

The best way to describe what I do, I suppose, is that my outlines are all "tell" and when I sit down to actually write the story, I develop that into "show." Sometimes, though, I get stuck in my outlines and feel like I have to follow them word for word, so lately I've been avoiding them like the plague and trying the "seat of your pants" method. I think it's working a little better for me.

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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Jessica Peter » June 12th, 2010, 8:30 pm

I'm a vague plotter (a paragraph or so for each chapter, and sometimes I can only do the first half of the book until I get into it), but I would also say no. The exposition comes TOO easily, whenever it wants to. The second draft is for cutting back and sticking it in the right places!
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by lac582 » June 13th, 2010, 12:05 pm

Thanks for the responses everyone! I guess I'm a perfectionist. I keep stopping myself as I write the first draft and reworking the plot - including when certain 'pieces of the puzzle' need to be dribbled out. :)

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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 13th, 2010, 2:15 pm

Impaled on the soaring skyline, Polymath? Indeed! I once wrote a scene where a skydiver gets impaled on the point of the Chrysler Building's famous spire. But further research revealed the spire, which looks needle sharp from street level, is several inches across at the top and quite blunt.

My YA steampunk series takes place on an earthlike planet, but with enough differences to require explanation. My teenage first person narrator is both a schoolboy and a cub reporter, which makes his reportage more appropriate than it might seem otherwise. He DOES sometimes explain things that he would not need to explain to anyone on his own planet, a potential point of improbability I address in various ways. Also, nearly all my characters, good and bad, are explorers on a great expedition, so much of what they see and experience is as strange and new to them as to the reader.

Hilary J is right about the 'As you know, Bob...' thing, but it is indeed a quirk of my world that characters sometimes DO talk about their world, though not always reliably. Their inaccurate record of the history of the Old Earth (i. e. our Earth) is a running joke.

As I near the end of the third and last book, I am rereading the first one and following Chekov's advice (the Russian playwright, not the Star Trek guy!) I am making sure I fired all the guns (metaphorical or literal) I hung on the wall early on AND taking off the wall a few guns I decided were not worth firing AND putting on the wall a few more guns I fired later on without necessary foreshadowing.

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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Username » June 15th, 2010, 4:24 pm

Could you elaborate on the gun thing please?

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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by polymath » June 15th, 2010, 4:33 pm

Chekov's Gun is a playwriting metaphor adopted by narrative writers related to foreshadowing by prepositioning objects, persons, motifs, for example a handgun, early in a narrative that will influence plot movement. Anton Chekov's Gun: If a gun is depicted in a first act, it better be fired by the third act. Its kinetic menace artfully poses suspense questions of when will the gun be fired, who or what will be harmed or saved, etc. Besides, if the gun is prepositioned in a first act, it doesn't just coincidentally show up in a later act, ready to hand to save the day. The inverse postulate to Chekov's Gun: If a gun is fired in the third act, it better be prepositioned in the first act.
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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by Username » June 15th, 2010, 7:56 pm

This reminds me of a scene in "A Passage To India".

Mrs. Moore spots a bee in her room, and has the sensitivity to pause and admire it. Forster, much later in the novel, re-introduces the bee, non logically, by placing it some hundreds of miles westward of The Marabar caves, and two years later in time, as a way for Professor Godbole to recall the old Englishwoman and her kind spirit.

There must be thousands of examples like that. I'd never heard of this gun foreshadowing thing before. Chekov I know from Star Trek. He sits beside Hikaru Sulu.

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Re: Plotters/Outliners - do you plan your exposition?

Post by polymath » June 15th, 2010, 8:43 pm

There's a seemingly infinite number of foreshadowing methods. One subtle foreshadowing method relies on nonconscious or conscious reader expectations of a setting, character, event, and/or idea transformation from a narrative's beginning to ending (plot), like a character transformation. A character in good straights in an opening experiences a downfall by the ending, or one in trying straights experiences an upturn in fortunes, or one heroically resists change but is nonetheless irrevocably, unequivocally transformed by successful resistance, or self-servingly resists change and fails. Plus other iterations of good or poor straights, self-serving or self-sacrificing weighted character traits, favorable or unfavorable outcomes, seeking or resistance to change outcomes. There alone is two to the fourth power, sixteen possibilities. Factor in a few more antagonism's either/or's and plotting possibilities grow exponentially large.

I know Pavel Chekov from Star Trek, Colonel Chekov from Stargate, the television series, and Anton Chekhov (also referred to as Chekov) as a playwright, fiction writer, and coiner of Chekov's Gun.
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