With hook and inciting incident under our belt let’s turn our sights today on exposition. The exposition is our opportunity to impart information on our reader about our ancestor and their story. While exposition is back-story, and it occurs early on, the challenge is not to go too deep here. We want to convey just enough information to explain how your ancestor happens to be in a particular place at a particular time and with the wants and desires that will lead us deeper into the story. Think of it like meeting someone for the first time. You don’t tell them your life story in the first 10 minutes. You take time to get to know each other, revealing just enough, the rest will follow in good time.
As family historians, we feel a pressure to not leave one fact behind. After all, we researched long and hard for those facts. But if we fill our pages, early and often, our readers can’t see the story for the facts. This is not the time to give us the pedigree chart and his parents and grand-parents history. Later in your story, you’ll be free to go deeper into back-story and your reader is more likely to follow you because they are invested in the story and your ancestor. Give us just enough information to know who they are and understand the complications they will face.
In the beginning exposition of your story, you want to share with the reader some basics.
Main Ancestor– this should be your focus, introduce us to your ancestor, let your reader get to know them as quickly as possible. Tell me or rather show me just who he/she is — a peasant farmer, a shop owner, a family man, a military man, a cowboy, a housewife. Introduce me to him/her. I don’t need to know how he got here, not yet, I don’t need to know how his parents or grandparents immigrated, and this can all come later in back-story, blended in throughout your story so as to not pull your readers out of the action. I know I’m harping on this but this is important.
Setting – Put your ancestor in his setting. Don’t get crazy with along descriptions, but put us in the time period, is this 1850 or 1950, are we in the city or the country are we in Ireland country side or a dock at Ellis Island, are we in a house, an apartment or a boat.
Conflict – Make sure you set up the conflict; we need to understand what the problem is very early on and identify your ancestors wants and desires don’t be vague.
Theme/Focus -The theme or focus of your story should most certainly make an appearance in your beginning exposition. We discussed focus in the guide and will talk about it later this month.
Tone- The beginning of your story should reflect the overall tone of your story. If this is a serious story then your opening should reflect so, if your story is going to be a light-hearted story than your tone should reflect that, don’t miss-lead your reader by opening with a funny scene, if your story is dark and tragic. Set the tone for your story right from the beginning.
Don’t let this early exposition distract you and your reader from the story. The key is making it just enough.