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Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Exposition is a literary device defined as the author providing information to the reader. The mistake of many new fiction writers is to immediately give the reader all the information. Right away. All at once. Page after page. This sort of exposition is dry, boring and likely results in your book being put down after a few minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, exposition has its place in the world; scientific articles, news reports and encyclopaedias are typical examples. It is considered a formal, matter-of-fact writing style and is sometimes given the name direct exposition. Direct exposition is considered a poor style of fiction writing – readers can’t handle all the information in one go, or the immersion of the story is broken by poorly disguised or placed information.

So, how do you get your information across to the reader?

The key is to trickle your amazing world history (or whatever) into the story as you go, ideally before the reader needs to know this information. Building up this way is simple and discrete and does wonders for your readership.

Jo Walton suggests that the best way to get information flowing throughout your work is to scatter it discretely, allowing it to seamlessly integrate rather than dumping it in. You can achieve this through various actions; dialogue between characters, flashbacks in which the story unfolds much like in movies and TV series, character thoughts and feelings, even describing news reports in the background of the situation. We call these forms of exposition indirect exposition.

The details, let’s get into more detail!

Dialogue is the verbal exchange between two or more characters. It can help you slip in some subtle exposition if the topic of the conversation relates to the information you’re trying to include. It’s as simple as discussing past events, concerns for the future or predictions based on a character experience.

Flashbacks are the author or narrator taking the reader backwards in time to describe a previous situation pertinent to the plot of the main story. They give the reader a sense of time and depth to the characters involved and can offer insight into possible future events beyond current time in the story. Tension can be generated when the reader knows a little more than the characters do. Don’t overdo flashbacks though, they can become tedious if they’re the only source of indirect exposition.

Thoughts and feelings are personal views belonging to your characters and are used in much the same way as a flashback, usually from an internal perspective:

“Why didn’t she turn left? Twenty years of living on the estate and she’s always turned left – she couldn’t help it.”

In-story media or news can really kick your exposition home. All that needs to happen is for a character to interact, either seeing, hearing or indeed taking part in the media platform:

“Chelsey grabbed the remote and flipped the TV volume up. She couldn’t believe her eyes – the stock market had collapsed. All the money they had invested, all the effort and pain they had endured to get their business working had been for naught. Economic war, the news presenter said, was leading to air, sea and land deployment of US troops on EU soil.”

Finally, a worthy note on narrative backstory.

Narrative backstory is when the author promotes some of the history or relevant information at the start of the story. You would normally find this sort of prologue in older fiction, usually pre-1950’s (the height of pulp fiction). It can work in modern fiction, but should be used sparingly – there’s a reason it’s not as popular anymore! However, if a character is recollecting the events or situation it allows for the reader to come to an understanding of the personal effects of this backstory. You will find that authors like H.P Lovecraft often wrote in the fashion of a personal journal or statement of the narrator, which adds a personal feel to a classical plot.

That wraps up today’s literary devices article! If you’ve been affected by any of the content of this article, or if you know of anyone who has, please get in touch and we can discuss the ideas more!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Getting closer to NaNoWriMo!

We’ve got some more unusual literary devices for your perusal today. We’ve scraped the barrel and hoisted the sales to bring these weirdly named tricks to add some flare and depth to your writing styles. See if you can make use of them in your month of writing – the fun unfolds!

Anadiplosis

Is it Ana-dip-losis or Ana-di-plosis? I’m going with the latter! This odd sounding technique is actually very simple – when you break a sentence down into clauses, you can choose to end a clause and start the next clause with the same word. It’s a really simple technique and adds weight to the authority of your tone. For example:

“That man speaks in lies, lies carried from the grave!”

Those smart ancient Greeks like to use this method, it pops up everywhere. My favourite example:

“The mountains look on Marathon – And Marathon looks on the sea.”

They’re quite simple to create and can be used in fiction, prose and poetry. This isn’t to be confused with a chiasmus which inverts the meaning between the clauses of a sentence – more on those later!

Bathos

Bathos uses a dwindling cohesion of metaphors and descriptions to show growing passion of the topic – it’s also used to create silly comedy. I am not a comedian, but here’s the best example I can come up with:

“He urged his friend to stop, to think about the children, to really consider what he was doing – how could he use French mustard on roast beef?”

OK so my example wasn’t great, but used properly bathos can create a strong contrast in the tone of your piece or add a delicate level of wit to something which is actually quite serious.

Chiasmus & Antimetabole

These two are so close together as literary devices that they are often used interchangeably. They’re not entirely the same however. They are used ideally in speeches or perhaps opening lines as rhetoric. When a sentence is repeated by its reversal, to convey an idea or define a point, it is called chiasmus (ki-as-mus). In an antimetabole (anti-me-tab-o-lee) however the words and grammatical structure are also reversed. My example of an antimetabole is one which I have to say a lot during my day job:

“I work to live, not live to work,”

All I’ve done is swap the word work and live around in the second half of the sentence to change the meaning around. For a chiasmus I’ve had to take an example from online, because it’s pretty difficult to distinguish the two types (and some are listed under both literary devices!):

“Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.”

Thank goodness for examples!

Dactyl

Sounds a bit like a dinosaur type creature, right? Well, Dactyl is an old Greek word for a finger and here’s why we use it to describe this literary device: a dactyl plays on a single word of three syllables, with the verbal accent of the first syllable emphasised over the second and third. The technique is used mostly in poetry (some say overused) to the point where its kind of normalised now. The opposite to this is the anapest, which puts the emphasis on the second two syllables rather than the first.

So, a dactyl in poetry (which is in itself a dactyl, PO-e-try) can consist of a series of dactyls in order to provide a meter for the reader, some say this gives the poem or piece of work a galloping effect -which people then link to The Charge of the Light Brigade, a famous and overused example online:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward

All in the valley of Death

You could argue that a dactyl can build a rhythm in your written work when the time is right, whether that’s a galloping charge of mounted soldiers or the specific beat of a drum, dactyls can be used as a literary device to help convey strong imagery.

This wraps up today’s unusually named literary devices. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some weird but cool and subtle tricks to add life to your fiction. Let us know if you have any success or if you’ve got any questions. Maybe you can improve on our descriptions? We’d love to get you involved!

J.D. Ferris, CC

Literary Devices – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

NaNoWriMo Prep: You Can Do It.

The month has gone by in a blur, our anticipation peaks as all the carefully collected and fleshed out notes (Ha!) are ready to come together to provide a much needed shove when we finally tick over to November first.

My technique has been to come up with an idea, write about two pages of notes, then let the rest of my ideas bounce around my head until I know exactly where I’m going with the story for the first few chapters. As a writer I’m definitely more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” type instead of meticulously planning everything out. When I get into the zone, I tend to just link the main plot points together with prose that tends to just flow out.

I don’t care about names, or the facts of my world, or even if I introduce a character only to forget about them five pages on. This thing is going to be about getting your thoughts onto the page any way you can. If you find yourself staring at the page for any extended amount of time, then stand up, get some fresh air, eat, do something different to bring you out of that frame of mind because you’ll soon feel defeated. If you do take a break, then be sure to come back to it in the same day or you’ll feel awful the next day with more to do and it won’t be long before you’ll hate the process.

If you get through the first week and you’ve hit most of your targets then you’ll feel fantastic and I think that is the point at which you’ll know if you’ve cracked it. But always remember your story, when you’re not writing, write notes about the plot points you’ve introduced and where they could go. You want to be able to look back on your novella and think “That’s pretty clever” at least once or twice.

You can do this. The biggest problem is finding free time. If anyone demands you leave your cave in the middle of writing, or tries to organise some event on a day you need to knuckle down and get some writing done, then either tell them that you’re trying to become the next best selling author or bring your laptop and be prepared to get dirty looks from some people as you sit in the cinema typing your manuscript.

Be the writer you want to be. Part-time writers are no writers at all. You need to sacrifice yourself to some degree to make this happen. And yes, I am mostly writing this for myself, I just hope it resonates with some of you, because I’m nervous and scared and hope it’s good. Even confident people struggle with stuff like this. You can do it though, I believe in you.

Author of “Emilia The Witch” for NaNoWriMo,

J.A.Steadman.