Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours for an hour so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.
This week’s assignment is designed to teach you the difference between scene and exposition.
Scene is SHOWING. It’s putting the reader into the story.
Exposition is TELLING the reader that something happened, without putting them into the story.
Scene is spending an amazing, life-changing weekend in Mexico where you are swept off your feet by a Latin lover, have an epiphany about what you want to do for the rest of your life, and maybe win the lottery while you’re there.
Exposition is watching someone’s slideshow of pictures from their weekend in Mexico.
Scenes have dialogue (interior or exterior) and action and they move the story forward on multiple levels.
Exposition has telling.
Scene is the difference between telling your reader that your character is in love, and your reader falling in love right along with them.
Chuck Wendig has a fantastic, somewhat NSFW, essay about exposition and what to do about it.
The Unpacking Assignment
So this week, I want you to look through your work in progress and find a bit of exposition. A sentence or paragraph where you told your readers that something happened.
And then I want you to open it up into a scene.
My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern day Las Vegas. Last week I told you about my hero, Rob’s, safe place. This scene happens there.
Here’s how this could have been exposition:
Rob went to the pool he’d spent his childhood swimming in with Mattie to get some space from the crush of mourners. When she showed up, he could finally breathe again. He could finally start his own mourning.
Here’s my draft of the way I wrote that as a scene:
He took two flights of stairs, two more hallways, and finally went through a set of glass double doors. He inhaled as the fresh desert air hit his face, gasping in a hard, deep breath like he wasn’t sure when he’d get another one.
A small swimming pool shimmered in front of him, lit so that its million tiny blue tiles looked like jewels. His father kept it perfectly maintained for employees, but when Rob was growing up it was mostly only him and Mattie that used it.
He kicked off his Nikes and reached down to pull off his socks and roll up his jeans. Maybe he’d go home and change before he went back into the ballroom. Dressing properly might make it easier to face the people in Ballroom A.
Before he could sit down and put his feet into the water, a wave of guilt washed over him. All those people waiting to tell him how sorry they were that his father was gone—and he couldn’t face them.
This time he didn’t bother trying to hold back the hard bubble that burst in his chest, although he still only felt pain instead of tears.
How could his father be gone? It was like trying to wrap his head around the idea of the sun deciding one day that it was done shining.
The door behind him opened with a soft whoosh and a burst of refrigerated air. Rob kept his back turned, trying to pull it together before he had to face another mourner. “I’m sorry, I—“
A hand slipped into his and Mattie was there.
She pressed against his right side, her forehead against his shoulder. She didn’t say she was sorry. She didn’t have to say anything. He kept her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.
Her hair smelled like apples. She’d cut it since the last time he’d seen her– short in the back, with long layers that fell forward and covered her face as she pressed her cheek against his chest.
Tears finally fell, releasing the mask of pain. Mattie wrapped her free arm around him and he finally cried for his father.
Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!
Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.
Spend sometime today turning one bit of exposition in your work-in-progress into a scene.
Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at noon PST for office hours.
Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.
If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.