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Plot Construction 101: Exposition

by Kellyn Roth |
April 20, 2016

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Last week we talked about the basic construction of a plot, The Great Pyramid. This week we’ll be talking about the exposition.
To summarize, an exposition is the beginning – the introduction – of a novel. Here is where you hook your readers. Another word for it is “chapter one.” 😉
Note: exposition doesn’t always happen in chapter one, as my friend Lana pointed out. However, you should introduce the main plot in the first 10% of the novel.

I wrote a quick example of a first chapter, mostly for fun, and because I like showing off my writing.

My example exposition:


(Cover by Casey Isarine)

“Are we there yet?” Jessa whimpered, dragging her feet along the ground. She shoved her dark hair out of her light green eyes with both hands. Her mother had decided to grow out her bangs, and the half-grown locks kept escaping from their clips.
“Just a bit longer, baby, just a bit longer,” her mother replied. “Come on; keep up!”
Jessa’s annoyance and self-pity deepened. A five-year-old shouldn’t be forced to walk such a long way! Why, they’d left their horse behind nearly – she glanced back – five yards behind them.
“I promise it’ll be worth it,” the Queen Alici assured her. Jessa sighed. Her mother must be wrong about that. Nothing was worth bouncing around for half an hour on the top of that big, frightening horse. Why couldn’t she have taken Havi, Jessa’s big sister, instead? Havi was seven; Havi was the crowned princess; Havi was the pretty one. Besides, seven-year-olds don’t have such short legs as five-year-olds.
The sun filtered through the green leaves above, creating a beautiful pattern on the queen’s golden hair, her white skin. They stepped out into a little clearing with a stream trickling through it. She turned to her daughter.
“Jessa … promise me you won’t tell anyone about what I’m going to show you today.”
She thought about this for a minute before replying. “I won’t. I promise,” she whispered sincerely.
“All right, then. Don’t be frightened.” She raised her right hand to the sky and closed her eyes.
Jessa jumped back with a little screech when her mother’s fingertips began to glow yellow. Butterflies swirled around the queen, resting on her hair, her clothing. A gentle breeze rushed forward and wove around her, bending the grass in her direction, and, with a snap of her fingers, a cloud above her swirled into the shape of a flower.
Realization came over Jessa, and in that moment she knew that her life could never be the same, for not only had the queen discovered something marvelous, but she had chosen to share it with her.
Alici was gifted.

What did I [try to] introduce in this short first chapter?

  • The main character, Jessa. Granted, she’s a lot younger than she will be in the rest of the novel, but she’s still the main character. Jessa is skeptical and serious. Because she’s not as pretty as her big sister, Havi, she’s already trying to find a place as “the sensible one.”
  • The setting. A fantasy kingdom called Killeen. It’s a monarchy; it’s heavily forested; it’s sunny and warm there. Ok, maybe you can’t glean that much from that little bit.
  • Writing style. This isn’t such a big deal, or as easy to see, but all writers have a voice, a style of writing, and
  • A hook, hopefully. (Why did the queen ask Jessa not to tell anyone? Why did she choose to tell Jessa and not her older daughter, Havi? Why is Jessa special?)

The hook is most important. Though, naturally, you want all of your novel to be great, spend a lot of time on the beginning when editing. That’s what I did (though the first chapter in The Dressmaker’s Secret really has too much description).

  • Does it draw the reader in from sentence one?
  • Does it pull the reader into your setting?
  • Does it introduce the main character in a favorable light?

I would definitely say that those are the most important things when it comes to writing expositions.
Note: David B. Hunter says, One thing I’d add to your list is the need to have an implicit question in that first sentence. Which, in your example could be, “Where is Jessa going?” That’s also important. I’ve got to remember that …

What do you look for in a first chapter? What do you try to do when writing a first chapter? What would cause you to stop reading a book? What did you think of the excerpt I posted? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
~Kellyn Roth

What do you think of my thoughts?

62 Responses

  1. Ooh, cool post! The only thing I’d say is that the exposition doesn’t necessarily have to be in your first chapter (though it usually is). I’ve heard you should introduce your main plot in the first 10% of the book, though.
    In a first chapter I look for intenseness, excitement, and interestingness. (Yes, I understand most of those weren’t actually words…) I think I tend to like first chapters that are a little bit mysterious and dive into the action, because otherwise I can get kind of bored, which is what will make me stop reading a book. I usually try to finish books, but if I get bored enough that I get distracted from reading, I won’t come back to it.
    And your book sounds cool! The excerpt did have a good hook–I am wondering why her mother didn’t tell Havi, but mostly I’m wondering why the queen has to hide her magic. I’m wondering if there’s some sort of social stigma against it, or if it’s actually banned or something (that would be interesting, to have the queen breaking her own laws), and I want to know what happens next. Good job!

    1. Thanks! 🙂 You’re right; it isn’t always in the first chapter. I should probably add that in. I prefer to have the story start as soon as possible … and be relatively exciting … and to slowly reveal to me all the stuff I want to know.
      I haven’t done enough world-building for Killeen … I really have to get started on that. XD

      1. I love world building. I mean, not actually world building, but I love hearing about the world building in books. It always interests me to see what the world views as traditional and how the characters see things differently than our world. World building is just awesome.

        1. I should really get to work on it. I’ll steal Morgan Dusky’s world-building list … and get up a brand-new Google docs (How inspiring!) … and world-build! *pretends like this is going to be easy*

          1. Ooh, yeah, she has a good list. *has also stolen it* Tell me how your world building goes! I love hearing other people’s rambles about their world building. 😀

                1. Yep, so far! I wasn’t able to do much because I had to go to bed … and then I had to do school … and band … and then we went out to dinner because it was late … and now I’m back. 😀

                  1. Well, at least you got some done! Did you think of anything interesting? Ooh, have you figured out how the magic system works? Actually that probably has spoilers, considering the context, but I love hearing about magic and magic systems.

                    1. I’ve figured out the government system, the geography, and a couple other things. My friend says it sounds a lot like Scotland (climate and geography-wise, anyway). As far as magic, I know that magic is a special gift for humans to receive that is only gifted for a reason. Bad magic is given from a bad source, good magic from a good source (sort of like gifts coming from God or the devil, though I don’t want to turn this into a Christian novel too much … just because I always feel like I’m being all preachy and holier-than-thou and *sighs*). And since bad magic is far more common, it’s banned and people who have either kind of magic hide it.

                    2. Oh, that sounds like awesomeness! (And I don’t know much about Scotland, so if you do let me read it, then I’ll probably just think it’s super creative and new.) So with the magic, do their choices affect what sort of magic they get (i.e. bad choices get them bad magic) or is it just random? It could be really interesting if it went both ways, because if it was the first and someone was gifted, and you didn’t know whether with bad or good then you’d probably just assume the worst. And the other way, there would be an interesting prejudice against those who got the bad magic even though it wasn’t their fault at all. (Also, I like hints of Christianity in novels…like Narnia. Narnia is fantastical.)

                    3. I think it’s somewhat random, but the bad magic preys on weaknesses – jealousy or whatever – and the good magic searches for strengths, like truthfulness or whatever.

                    4. Yes. On the other hand, good magic doesn’t really make your strengths grow stronger … not in itself. You make the choice to use your gift wisely or unwisely.

                    5. You can’t use bad magic for good purposes. You can refuse to use the bad magic, though if you’re a target of the bad magic, usually you wouldn’t be the kind of person who’d stop using the bad magic ……..

                    6. Wait, I didn’t see this one earlier. Oops. Anyway, that sounds cool. Is there anyone who has bad magic who doesn’t use it in the story? (Okay, that’s definitely spoilerish, but if that happens it’s probably an awesomely noble character.)

                    7. Buuut….fine fine. I’ll wait until you finish writing it and then I’ll read it and see what this spoilery thing is. *waits*

                    8. Well, you should finish that too. Just finish all the books, Kell. Wait, you can’t write in five books at the same time and get them all done in one month? How disappointing…

                    9. *straight face* Nope. I’m a dragon. It gets kind of difficult to type with the talons sometimes, and once I accidentally fried my computer to a crisp, but overall it’s pretty great.

                    10. *affronted look* Of course I’m a flying dragon. And, well, it’s amazing…I’m not really sure how it’s physically possible for my wings to hold it up, but one really important thing I’ve learned is DON’T QUESTION THE MAGIC. Just don’t.

                    11. That’s odd. Last night, I had a dream that I was talking to one of the girls in my school and complimenting her on her performance in the talent show yesterday.

                    12. Well, it’s always good to compliment people.
                      Dreaming that one of my animals had a baby is actually a pretty common occurrence for me.

                    13. Haha, really? I’ve never dreamed about that…then again, I don’t have as many animals as you do…just a cat and some chickens.

                    14. Ah, okay, that makes more sense then. Is that something you’d like to do when you grow up or is it just fun?

                    15. Yes, it is. I actually intend to live where I am now and raise cattle … and I imagine I’ll have dogs and cats, too … and I want a horse, but … you know, they’re super expensive.

                    16. That’s really cool! And haha, once you become a bestselling author I’m sure you’ll be able to buy yourself many horses.

                    17. Okay. Tell me what happens once you figure it out (unless it’s spoilerish, in which case you don’t need to tell me about it).

                    18. *rolls down a mountain of procrastination* Well, that’s not true. I wrote 2000 words last night! I should always work at midnight. My brain is clearest then. 😉

                    19. Hey, that’s awesome! I haven’t written (or done anything relating to writing) in the past few days, but I have been really busy. And actually really busy and not just me saying “I was…um…busy.”

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