Just don’t do it by unzipping your clothes. Okay, fine, not by unbuttoning them either. And on no account wear a maniacal grin. And, if you absolutely must do any of the above, do NOT tell them Sarah Hoyt said to it.
Because Sarah Hoyt is, of course!, talking about literary information. A concerned fan (mostly concerned I’d run out of blog topics), recently sent me the following Heinlein quote:
The door dilated. – Beyond This Horizon (1942)
This offhand mention has become the simplest (three words!) and often-quoted exposition of the wonders of a different world, where what would be novel today has become simply the way things work.
Because of the way the paragraph with the quote came at me, I’m not sure who said it, but it sounds like something out of a writing manual.
However, the point bears making, and I’ve seen it in a dozen how to write books, quoted as the example to emulate.
Heinlein was, of course, the master of writing this sort of thing, which is why he bequeathed us the term “Heinleining” for how to introduce exposition to anything.
So, how do you do it? Well…
A few techniques:
The sly – you can think of this technique as a cat sneaking up behind people and stealing food from their plate before they realize he’s there. The door dilated might be perhaps the best example, but you can contrive your own less spectacular ones:
The car took off, low altitude at first, then rising.
Every morning at six am, the Mars launch rattled the house and woke me up.
My suit needed reprogramming.
The misdirection – you simply present this as something everyone knows but focus the attention of the sentence elsewhere. Let’s try:
It seems like all the representatives of the fifty planets were fixed to give us their sort of law, again, long on graft opportunities and short on substance.
The corn crop was going to be terrible, of course. They’d been terrible the last fifteen years, since the Mage War had devasted Krevalen.
Mina was not going to use a magespell to make herself prettier. She always thought the girls who did that and got elected Queen of the Prom should be flayed with a butter knife.
The matter of fact – which you need to be careful about, so it doesn’t become ridiculous, with characters telling each other things both of them should know. You know, the “As you known, Bob, we were invaded by Martians in 1945.” The way to do it is by combining the previous techniques.
It probably was going to come to war, and when fifty civilized planets get in a war, every world was likely to get time-bombed out of existence.
You see what I did there? Of course, other bits of hidden exposition have to tell us what the heck those things mean, but for now try those for yourself. Give me more examples in comments, and forgive me the short post. There’s a workshop in town which I’m getting a chance to audit, (Which you should take as a minor lesson. Yes, I have 24? 25? – I haven’t counted lately – books out, but I still take every chance possible to listen to more successful professionals telling how they did it. I’d have paid for it if I could, but this one is really very expensive, so getting a chance to audit is nothing to sneeze at.) and my deep freezer just gave up the ghost. It’s always something.