(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· The Beginning of the Story is Called Exposition ·
When you start reading a book, you want to know so many things all at once. The primary question I ask myself is, “Am I interested in reading this book?” because there are so many books to read and so little time to read them.
The writing has to grab me, or “hook” me to keep me reading.
You may be one of those readers that will give the author a very short amount of time or window before deciding that the book doesn’t fit your style or pique your interest.
Whether the book has been recommended to me, or if I’ve just picked up a physical copy and perused its front and back covers, I will know within a minute or two if I want to keep reading.
The first sentence must interest me. If so, I continue reading. I want to learn the time (past, present, future) and place (setting), but I also want to meet someone who interests me.
In literary fiction, a memorable character is a must!
The beginning of the story (sometimes as the back story) where the characters and setting are introduced is called the exposition.
Obviously, on page one the universe is not born. There’s a history. So, I believe the author must introduce these new people to the reader and make them interesting without overloading the reader with too much back story. I also prefer to give the reader enough time to get comfortable in the setting and with the players before a major shift of people and places.
In my novel Taking Back the Bullet, Tom Jennings, a main character, is introduced immediately. The reader quickly learns a lot about Tom by being exposed to the jail setting in which he works. Here are the first five paragraphs of the novel:
By two in the morning, Jailer Jennings had booked in three DUIs. Eight hours down and four to go before he could go home, catch some z’s, then return to do it all over again.
After two years working the jail, Tom Jennings viewed most drunks as clones of their intoxicated peers. He’d heard, “I only had two beers,” so often that he no longer shook his head in disbelief or judged them as desperate liars. Instead, he smiled. It was a joke. Police humor.
Gazing between the jail bars, sitting at the book in counter, Jennings was introduced to a cross-section of humanity: the criers who might later be discovered hanging with a bed sheet around their necks; the big mouths that talked tough then pissed their pants; the chronic huffers and meth heads with their glazed eyes, mouths ajar leaking spittle; the polite, even apologetic prisoners who could stick you with a pen and sign their name in your blood before you knew it wasn’t red ink; the crazies or MIs, dumped into this facility, who were more likely to be victims than perpetrators; and the friendly regulars who greeted you by name, then asked, “When we eat?”
The jail was stifling. Now, even in mid-spring, it was already hot. There were no windows to open, just steel walls guarding ancient stale air. Vents designed for climate control, instead funneled water and sewage out of flooded cells from their deliberately backed up toilets. And the buzzers, bells, pounding, and yelling were enough to wish deafness from the hearing.
Of course his weight didn’t help. Obese, he resembled a mutant Idaho potato in a jiggling gelatin suit. Even in his short-sleeved uniform and without the body armor that patrol officers wore religiously, Jennings could feel the constant trickle of perspiration roll down his fleshy chest.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!