(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“Exposition is the communication of knowledge which the reader requires in order to understand a scene.” Ayn Rand

Back story is all the stuff that happened before your tale began but which has an impact on the front story. Back story helps define the character and establish motivation. I think it’s important to get the back story in as quickly as possible, but it’s also important to do it with some grace.” Stephen King

“Backstory is the material which exposition must somehow relate.” Madison Smartt Bell

“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest.” Stephen King

“Your Ideal Reader can be of tremendous help when it comes to figuring out how well you did with the back story and how much you should add or subtract on your next draft. You need to listen very carefully to the things I.R. didn’t understand, and then ask yourself if you understand them. If you do and just didn’t put those parts across, your job on the second draft is to clarify—if the parts of the back story your Ideal Reader queried are hazy to you, as well—then you need to think a lot more carefully about the past events that cast a light on your characters’ present behavior.” Stephen King

“If the information is poured out as a lecture, barely concealed by some stupid device—’Oh, Captain, do tell me how the anti-matter dissimulator works!’ and then he does, endlessly—we have what science fiction writers call an Expository Lump. Crafty writers (in any genre) don’t allow Exposition to form Lumps. They break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story with.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“If you have a complex exposition to give, you will in the beginning be anxious to give it all at once. It will seem to you that you have to tell the reader everything or he will not understand you. Do not be fooled by this; the story will carry if you make just one point clear. A few sentences later, you divulge something else, and so on. Feed one bit of information at a time.” Ayn Rand

“Almost all narrative carries some load of explaining and describing. This expository freight can be as much a problem in memoir as in science fiction. Making the information part of the story is a learnable skill. As always, a good part of the solution consists simply in being aware that there is a problem.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“We’re practicing invisible exposition.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“Tell it so that the reader doesn’t realize they’re learning anything.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“Exposition is weaving the necessary history into the present narrative.” Ulf Wolf

“The one rule about exposition is: Do not let it show. . . . For instance, do not have two characters talk about something they both know.” Ayn Rand

“A proper use of exposition . . . is done in the nature of a parenthesis, without stopping the action.” Ayn Rand

“There are no rules about where to feed information or at what tempo; you have to gauge this by the general structure of the story.” Ayn Rand