Monday, September 28, 2009

Writing Concept: Micro-tension in Exposition

Donald Maass has written a top-notch craft book called The Fire In Fiction. If you haven't laid your hands on this, I highly recommend it. This series of posts is taken directly from Chapter Eight. You will want your own copy if possible, so you can highlight and mark it up. I think this is one book on craft I will refer to often.

Exposition (interior monologue) is often skimmed over by readers. To illustrate his point, Maass suggests you pull out a purple highlighter (purple?) and grab a novel off your shelf. Read a few pages with your purple highlighter in hand. Draw a wavy line through any area you find yourself skimming. His bet is that much of what you skim will be exposition.


Maass writes: The most common reason is that such exposition merely restates what is obvious from what we have read: emotions that we felt earlier, thoughts that have already occurred to us. My private term for this is churning exposition. It's easy to skim because there's nothing new in it.

My notes from the his workshop include these words under micro-tension in exposition: SHARP HARD CONFLICT WAR

Tension in exposition is created when the author constructs feelings that are in conflict, or ideas that are at war with one another. Examples in Fire, include feelings of happiness and relief vying for worry in the exposition of one young girl. Ideas of judgment warring with forgiveness in the interior monologue of a dying man.

From Fire: How do you handle exposition? Are there passages of interior monologue in your manuscript that are just taking up space? If there are, you can cut them, or possibly you can dig deeper into your character at this moment in the story and find inside of him contradictions, dilemmas, opposing impulses, and clashing ideas that keep us in suspense.

. . . true tension in exposition comes not from circular worry or repetitive turmoil; it springs from emotions in conflict and ideas at war.

CR: Identity Crisis by Debbi Mack

It's all better with friends.


  1. Thanks for the suggestion. I have read a number of books on the craft of writing and found all of them were helpful in one way or another (even the ones I disliked showed me what NOT to do!)

    Always a learning curve...

    Cheers, Jill

  2. Books on writing are giving my cookbooks a run for their shelf-space. LOL. I have a few favorites, and THE FIRE IN FICTION is one of them.

    The learning curve both exhilerates and humbles me. But I'm grateful to be riding something that moves rather than lying dead and dormant.