Picture this: You are sitting in a lecture and the speaker feels it necessary to give a 30-minute historical preamble before making his main point. You are very sure his point could have been made without the entire history of the Greco-Roman empire . . . and by now, you’ve lost interest. The speaker took far too long to set up his premise, and now, he’s lost his audience and his point, even when made, will fall on deaf ears. Do not let this happen to your readers!
Narrative exposition (or the insertion of background information) usually includes information about the setting, introductory facts about your topic, historical context, or a character’s backstory. It builds the stage and is often the foundation of the entire book. Narrative exposition is important because it prevents readers from getting lost. However, if a book is too exposition-heavy, readers will lose interest, and they will lose it quick. It’s important not to cross the fine line—give readers the information they need, but don’t give them too much.
If you are writing a novel, you have probably gone to great lengths to develop your characters and your setting. You have likely put years of preparation and research into your book’s background. However, not every minute detail can be included in the book.
Remember, ease of reading and quality of narrative will always trump superfluous information and tangents.
Of course, this does not mean you cannot include necessary details. But when writing (and editing), be aware of how your materials are organized and presented. Important expositional information can be spread out and embedded naturally into the text (even through dialog!). For example, when a reader is introduced to a character, he or she does not need to know the character’s childhood all at once!
When you are aware of how you are organizing (and limiting) your expositional narrative, you will prevent your reader from getting bogged down. More than anything, you want to grab the reader’s interest. Give expositional background information only when necessary.
As writers and authors, we often get “attached” to details about our books that we deem precious or important. We are deeply connected to our work, which means we may not have an objective eye when going back and culling. A good way to find out if your book is giving “TMI” (or too much information) is to have a couple friends or family members read over your manuscript. Did they lose interest? Did they feel bogged down? What parts felt tangential? An objective reader always helps!