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Character Exposition: Less is more, now how does one DO it?:
Street Writing ManOk, like many of you I've got a fistful of complex characters I want to make sure my audience knows at least as well as their own relatives (I'll settle for 'distant relative'). I have their backstories all figured in my head, their appearance so detailed I could sketch a photograph (if I had a gram of artistic talent), and their personalities are so real they're all but making me schizophrenic. So how the hell do I get my readers to see them the way I do without info-dumping?? I'm always in awe when a book or movie manages to tell me everything I need to know in a few lines, be it speech or text. My favorite example is Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Indy and Marian. You learn everything about them in four lines of dialogue and one action. specifically, Indy and Marian. Example... Marian punches Indy: "I've learned to hate you in the last ten years." Indy: "I never meant to hurt you." Marian: "I was a child! I was in love!" Indy: "You knew what you were doin'." And now we know exactly what happened between them, no messy boring emo-B.S. We also learn that Marian is not a girl to be messed with; she doesn't slap Indy, she punches him. And from the way he rubs his jaw after, it kinda hurt. Why does this work so well? And how does a writer cop this technique for himself? I get so tired of badly developed characters in novels...but I also get tired of draggy info-dumps (let's face it, we all skim those anyhow). What's a writer to do? I leave it to the cynical experts of TV Tropes to try and come up with an answer (or at least an opinion).
It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men. -Frederick Douglass
An accurate depictionBecause it maintains the willing disbelief- that the characters are real, that they are interacting in a life that is not defined by the novel. We are seeing how they act naturally. It's also concise and it follows the great rule of Show, don't Tell. That being said, know how your characters act, what drives them. Then, you can let their actions weave a story without exposition.
edited 4th Nov '10 8:30:49 PM by Morgulion
This is this.
I have the same exact problem. My novel series has a huge backstory that stretches back literally thousands of years, and my fourth chapter in the first novel has become a bit of a messy exposition dump (it's still my first draft). I'm thinking I may have to spread the backstory explanation out a bit so the readers don't become too overwealmed by it. I also have about thirteen characters I need to introduce all at once (who are members of an ancient order). They don't all have to be super fleshed-out though because a few of them will be killed off.
edited 4th Nov '10 10:24:49 PM by Surenity
Oh brother, not that!
My teacher's a pandaShow, don't tell. It may be cliche, but with good reason. You can have the narrator or other characters describe the character in great detail, but unless we see the character demonstrate these characteristics, then there's really no point to it. Characters will reflect their character in every action they make and every line of dialogue they say. Every choice they make is a direct result of their personality and personal history. Actions do speak louder than words. If you truly know your characters as well as you say you do, then it should show in your writing. As you write, you should feel the characters act through you. Suddenly, they're spouting words you've never imagined them ever saying, but do so much better at showing off their personalities than all the info dumping in the world.
Ahr riverTry and find an editor or some third party to read the lines, and tell you if they can glean the right information, and what else have you.
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