Storytelling Elements - Exposition and Description

There is a popular belief among all the Creative Writing professors I've interacted with that Exposition and Description are so much in opposition to one another that to do one is to exclude the other.

I'm not convinced I know why, but here's an interesting idea: you can exposite with your description, and describe with your exposition.

The "show, don't tell" style of writing has been very popular for as long as I've been alive (and longer), so thinking in different terms takes some effort. Starting with the basics, let's try this.

Exposition: A comprehensive explanation or description of something not easily understood. A setting forth of the meaning or purpose of something.

Description: A spoken or written representation of a person, place, or event. Discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced.

So, let's say you have a character that knows something none of the other characters know, and that your audience needs to know in order to yell things at the characters for not knowing. You might convey a great deal of description just through how the character delivers the information. He might say:

"Those tracks over there run all the way from Description City to Exposition Coast. We plan to sabotage the line so no one can connect the two."

Or he might say:

"See over there, on the hill? Silver and shiny. My daddy helped build those tracks. They put a bullet through his head before they were even done. That's not how folk are supposed to live, not here, not in the city, not on the coast. Once we get the powder, we'll light the fuse. See what their precious trains run on then."

See what I did there? :)

The same can be done with description. Instead of just stating "the building was old and weather-beaten," you might instead describe how the building's windows were all grimy, and slanted slightly to the right from the constant pressure of wind and rain beating against the facade. You've then delivered information not only on how the building looks, but on the kind climate of the area (and describing the climate can make for boring exposition, let me tell you).

Now it's your turn. How would you blend description and exposition?


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