Tony’s Review: Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

9969571

3/5

In the disintegrating world of 2044, Wade Watts, a hermit teenager, dedicates his life to discovering the online clues that could win him the ultimate prize…

The OASIS is the only place to be in the future. The world has fallen apart, and almost every aspect of humanity is pushed onto a massive online, virtual reality. Even schools and public services are in there – there’s a planet with nothing but schools, for instance. Interaction is through avatars. They can be ‘killed’ (more like a restart), but nobody really gets hurt in there. Not physically, anyway.

The man who designed this became the richest man on the planet, and when he dies, his fortune is left up for grabs for whoever can solve the puzzles he left behind, puzzles rooted in very, very obscure 1980s pop culture and gaming references.

I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not particularly skilled at computer or arcade games, so the (80s) subculture that the author immerses us in is mostly lost on me. But luckily, he explains every reference as he goes along.

In fact, he seems just to drop references in just to explain them…they don’t really advance the plot much. There’s an example where Wade travels somewhere in a Back to the Future DeLorean with a Knight Rider and Ghostbusters add-ons. It’s never used again and not mentioned, so why do it?

In the movie “Signs” a character says: “…this stuff is just about a bunch of nerds who never had a girlfriend their whole lives. They make up secret codes and analyze Greek mythology and make secret societies where other guys who never had girlfriends can join in.”

That’s what the 80s subtext of the novel mostly felt like to me; obscure references that very few people would understand (or even care if they weren’t there). They’re just secret handshakes for the society the author moves in.

Fortunately, the main character is likable enough to keep you reading – you want this little underdog to win, especially against the corporate bullies who are willing to kill him and his friends. You want him to come out with the girl and the prize and some good friends. There are no real surprises when he does all three.

I have some grievances against the pop culture references. Where was Madonna? Where was Spielberg? Where was Tron? And one the author missed that I caught: Wade references Fantastic Voyage (1966)…why not Innerspace (1987)?

Also, since the references seemed to stretch back and forward decades a little, where was Potter World?

Wade calls his diary for keeping track of all the clues his Grail Diary, a reference to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s a nice metaphor, and it carries nicely through the book; as Jones discovers that the search for the Grail is the search for what’s important rather than an artefact, so does Wade discover that what’s important to him isn’t inside a computer, but back in the world of the real.

Tony’s Review: Insurgent, Veronica Roth

11735983

3/5

Tris has to come to terms with killing a friend, and losing her parents, while trying to form and keep new alliances with The Factions (and Factionless). But nothing is black and white anymore…

I checked back, and it’s been two years since I read Divergent – high time I read Book Two, I thought, and I had some summer time reading space and went for it.

Despite the gap between the stories, I didn’t feel lost as to what was going on in this book. It’s almost self-contained, with enough back-story reminders to keep you on track. There’s a nice sequel hook at the end so you come back for Book Three to see how it all works out.

Roth sketches her world in rough outlines, with shades of grey and rain the predominant colours and weather, but despite that, you get a solid sense of place and are very grounded in this world and its characters.

I commented in the first book there didn’t seem to be much chemistry between Tris and her instructor, Tobias (now her lover). This time it seems more developed and the relationship more concrete. There seems to be more of a need for each other now.

Roth doesn’t hang about in this book. Her pacing is relentless; there aren’t many pages where the characters aren’t moving forwards to the next event. Tris is shifting locations constantly in this book, from Amity orchards to Candor confusing corridors. The pacing is almost too fast, and sometimes the action blurs into one.

Tris also changes alliances as her whims take her. I’m not sure I would Tris with my back in a fire-fight: She might decide the people we were supposed to be fighting have a better deal for her. It does make her character and the dynamics of her relationships more interesting though. Tris is a woman in conflict, with everyone around her and herself.

I will be coming back for Book Three…maybe in another two years.

Tony’s Review: The Tipping Point by Walter Danley

TippingPointFront2-FJM_Low_Res_500x750-Copy

No rating – didn’t finish it.

(This was a read-for-review sent by Mr Danley)

I got to 25% of the Kindle copy of “Tipping Point”, a corporate thriller set in the world of real estate before I stopped. It was fine for the most part before the 25%. For the most part…the rest of the time, it read like a first draft: There were tense changes, POV switches midway through paragraphs and numerous typos. A character on a ski slope inhales the “fridge mountain air”; a major characters name is mis-spelled; There were sentences without a subject that made no sense.

A bigger problem was the telling and not showing, particularly of the love interest, who we were told was beautiful four times without being shown it once – having someone stare at her as she walked by, for instance.

The notes at the end made this clear that this was a revision of a book already published…and that it had been proofread by a few people before it saw the light of Kindle-dom. These were mistakes that should have been caught by that net and weren’t. Also in the addendum was an extract from Part Two of the series, where a character “…barley escaped with their life.” Ouch.

What started out as the main plot – the murder mystery of a character killed by a hired assassin – just fell apart at the 25% mark into recondite and very…very…dull real estate jargon. It wasn’t moving the plot along, so I skimmed it to the end of the chapter, where another real estate board meeting was taking place, filled with more boardroom jargon. I skimmed that as well, then decided it wasn’t going to get any better and dropped it.

Sorry, Mr Danley. You pretty much lost my interest when you spent a chapter talking about how the assassin came to name his cat.

Tony’s Review: Emma, Jane Austen

6969

3/5

Emma Woodhouse is an early 19th century matchmaker. She’s also very rich (I saw a modern comparison put her wealth at $3 million or so in 21st century value), very bored and a snob – and a spoilt brat with a sense of superiority and inflated ego.

In the 19th century, the only way a woman could make her mark on the world was to marry; it was the only way she could secure her future and the future of her children. Marriage to the right man was all that mattered. And when I mean the right man, I mean a richer one. Everyone in 1815, it seems, was a social climber.

It’s background like this that you need to have before you go into this book, or Emma’s attempts at matchmaking and her refusal to marry won’t mean a thing. Once you get that idea of the social set, you’re on your way.

I had a hard time getting into this book. No fault of Austen; I was reading thirty minute snippets at lunchtime in a very noisy and distracting environment at work, and not much seemed to be happening – endless dinner parties or arrangements for dances or visits, mixed in with Emma’s hopeless attempts at matchmaking and discerning human behaviour.

I didn’t feel I was being fair to the book, so I started reading where it was quiet. Suddenly, something about Austen seemed to click. I practically heard it. Everything she was doing with the characters and situation started to make sense.

And let me tell you something: Austen is a bloody brilliant writer. Her characters are warm, witty, full of life and idiosyncrasies and funny. They are human and jump right off the page. Her small cast of characters and her observations of humanity are spot on.

Here’s an example. Mrs Bates: That woman. Will. Not. Shut. Up! And then Emma calls her on it, and realises how much it has hurt Mrs Bates. As a reader, I thought, I’m just as bad as Emma. I’m just as rude for not listening to her, or at least tolerating her. Brilliant.

Emma and her life herself take some dissection. Her social set consists of about ten people in one village, and she has no means of travel for long periods away from home. Her father worries a lot about everything, convinced some disease will strike her down if she does, and Emma respects that.

Her life is boredom, essentially. She matchmakes the people around her to stretch her strait-jacketed life and to alleviate the tedium – a tedium I felt as keenly as her as she arranged yet another trip to Randalls, or discussed the best place to hold a ball.

The only thing about Emma’s matchmaking…she’s not very good at it. No; she’s useless at it, completely misunderstanding everything that’s going through other people’s heads and hearts. Her ego and self-assurance won’t admit to any fault on her part though. She’s convinced she can’t be wrong.

She also refuses to mix with people below her, or those she considers ‘inferior’, like Jane Fairfax. She’s not an easy person to like. But despite that, you stick with her because you glimpse the good in her – in her respect for her father, her heeding advice for Mr Knightley, she shows the good woman she could be. And she does get better. A whole lot better, by the end of the book – she’s a woman transformed.

I enjoyed this a whole lot more than Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps now I’ve got the hang of Austen – she’s a writer having a blast and a whole lot of fun – I might go back and give it another try.

I certainly have a lot more time for her now.

Tony’s Review: Coraline and other stories, Neil Gaiman

6771443

4/5

 

My first dip into the Gaiman universe was an enjoyable experience. Like a day at the beach – sometimes the wind will drop and the vista of the sea before you will open out to infinity. You’ll settle into your chair of choice and sigh, contented. The next minute, the wind will be kicking sand into your eyes and the sun will be shooting shard of lights into your eyes from the choppy ocean.

Gaiman is like that. When he’s good (which is most of the time), he’s excellent, with a wry and humorous turn of phrase, a delicate touch of wit. When he’s bad, he’s mediocre, and doesn’t do a lot for you. You shift in your seat and push on, hoping he’s going to get better again.

This was a collection of ten stories and one blank verse…

Coraline, the header of the book. An old-fashioned fairy tale, with an old-fashioned witch and a feisty heroine. Nothing new here, not really, but Gaiman spins the tale with a deft wit into an exciting and at times frightening tale. To be honest, I was more scared by Coraline’s parents’ indifference than by her Other Mother. Great bedtime story for kids though.

The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds This is an absolute hoot, a riot of a tale. A hard-boiled detective working the nursery rhyme beat, full of characters like Little Jack Horner and Humpty Dumpty, aka The Fat Man. Just brilliant, and I guffawed and chortled my way through it. One to read aloud, detective voice included.

Don’t ask Jack The weakest and shortest story in the collection, about a malevolent toy abandoned in a toy box. Such little happens that it wasn’t worth the effort.

Troll bridge A spin on the tales of trolls that live under bridges, but more about the boy (and later man) who discovers it. Since he’s a jerk, we don’t really care if the troll catches him or not; and since he’s a jerk, the story didn’t do much for me.

How to sell the Ponti bridge The oldest scam in the book – selling something that isn’t yours. A twist at the end, but it isn’t a particularly good twist, and doesn’t lift the story above average.

October in the chair A homage to Ray Bradbury, full of strange imagery and twisting sentences. The story itself is quite weak, but the frame around the story is nice, full of seasonal atmosphere and wit.

Chivalry Another hoot of a tale. An old lady finds The Holy Grail, and refuses to part with it, even when a knight makes her better and better offers. Wonderful tale, especially the little epilogue.

The Price A family takes in stray cats, and one of them repays them. Interesting story; what was refreshing was how genre-savvy the character was. He locks the cat in the basement, and his life starts to go wrong. He releases it, and his life improves. He’s smart enough (for a change for a literary character) to realise what’s going on.

How to talk to girls at parties Thinking about this one again, I see where Gaiman was going with it. Talking to girls when you’re a teenager is like talking to strange aliens who make no sense. In fact, I think it still is.

Sunbird Strong characters let down by an average story and so-so ending.

The witch’s headstone A boy – who might or might not be dead – can see the dead and interact with them. He decides to buy a witch a headstone as a favour. Too easily resolved, this could have been stretched a little more and the characters given more depth to make it more satisfying.

Instructions A blank verse poem about going on a quest, with some cool imagery. Falls apart at the end though, like Gaiman didn’t know what to do with it.

So, in the end, what do I think of my first dip into Gaiman? I liked the way he developed his characters, and his world building – sometimes in a phrase or two – was brilliant. His characters are very genre-savvy, which is energising. When the boy in “October in the Chair” meets another boy in a graveyard, he knows (as we almost instantly do) that the boy is a ghost; as when the man in “The Price” who finds that a stray cat is protecting his family when he locks it into the cellar and his life begins to break.
His endings seemed the weakest part of his writing. He seems to be aiming for twists in some of his stories, but they were laboured and obvious.

However, I think I’ll be back for more Gaiman. I’m intrigued enough to continue reading!

IAM15 Interview…Tony Talbot

    Thanks to everyone for taking part in Indie Month 2015!

Hope to see you next year…

IAM 2015 - Topper

To round out Indie Month, we’re talking to AfW regular Tony Talbot

***

TT-2015

Tony Talbot started writing short stories in 2008, after a dream he had and couldn’t shake; Finally his wife told him to write it down or stop talking about it.

He wrote his first Young Adult novel, Over the Mountain, in 2008, and has completed several others and a growing raft of short stories since.

He lives in a village in Leicestershire, UK, with an American wife he met online and two cats. As well as writing, he enjoys reading, playing on the Wii-U and not getting enough exercise.

1974407_817457584970135_8551075198604331009_o

***

What is you favourite way to spend a rainy day?

Listening to it and watching it from somewhere dry. I love a good rainstorm.

You’ve found a time machine on your driveway this morning – where are you going to go in it?

Forward a week so I can sell it to myself on Ebay. 🙂

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

A laptop, A Kindle with a solar charger and a good internet connection. And an endless supply of Jelly Beans.

What is the one book you think everyone should read?

Oh, so many! To Kill a Mockingbird is just sublime, as good as it gets.

How do you react to a bad review?

Sulk for weeks. Tear my hair out. Then go and write something else. You’re never going to please everyone, so if most people like it, you’re on to something.

How did you celebrate the sale of your first book?

Mostly it was shock! “They liked it! I’m getting paid for doing this, can you believe it?”

One food you would never eat?

Broccoli. It’s just not right, and I don’t trust it one bit. I always feel like it’s judging me.

What has been your most rewarding experience since being published?

Having reviewers saying that something made them cry, or carried them away to another world for a while. That’s pretty amazing.

What was your favorite book when you were younger?

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton. I adored that book, and I still have a copy.

What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Never give up. And always put everything you have into everything you write.

If you could choose only one time period and place to live, when and where would you live and why?

I’d love to be right at the place and time where we know, without a doubt, that aliens are communicating with us. To look into the sky that night, point at a white dot among the millions and say, “There they are.”

What is your favorite Quote?

Currently, not one from a book, but from a maintenance plate on an elevator / lift: Keep well oiled to ensure satisfaction.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

A librarian for a while. An undertaker (I thought: it’s great job security!). It was always something always bookish and indoors-y.

If a movie was made about your life, who would you want to play the lead role and why?

Wil Wheaton. He’s about four days older than me, so the age is right for a start. He’s a great actor, very under used talent. I think he could pull off playing the Shining Light that is Me. 😉

Who are your favorite authors of all time?

Dean Koontz for seeing the tragedies of the world with humour; Stephen King for seeing the horror that lurks inside normal people; Charles Dickens for his characterisation.

Can you see yourself in any of your characters?

Oh, all of them are parts of me, the good bits and the bad. The lovers of rainstorms and the socially awkward teenagers.

What’s the craziest writing idea you’ve had?

There was a photo essay the other week in “The Atlantic” – they have a cool photo section – and it was people who dress as zombies and then go and parade through cities. I thought: What about if real zombies were in there as well and no one noticed – they all thought they were REALLY good at staying in character while they ate people’s brains…And how would the cops know who to take down or arrest?

Hidden talent?

Double jointed thumbs – both of them. It’s a little freaky.

What movie and/or book are you looking forward to this year?

Star Wars Episode VII. It’s going to be BIG.

Cats or Dog?

I have two cats now, so I’m heading towards cats on this one…

Apples or Oranges?

Oranges if they don’t have pips. Apples if they aren’t too mushy.

Cause or Effect?

Oh, effects. They’re much more fun, aren’t they?

Heads or Tails?

Heads. Always heads.

Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook. Twitter is a strange, truncated world…

Truth or Dare?

Truth. Or maybe dare. Is there a third option?

Text or Talk?

Talk. I can’t get the hang of text speak…

Favorite quote from a movie?

“Why is the rum gone?!” Captain Jack Sparrow.

***

Guest Post: Short Stories 101

I was emailing an Australian friend the other day (Anna Hub). She’s written four novels and just finished a fifth (The Ninth Hunter, well worth looking for when it comes out). But…she’s not sure where to start with short stories.

Most writers start with short stories and progress to novels, so it’s curious to see it the other way round…

“Bigger” (54 words)

“Mick? Did you hear that?” Elbows him awake.
“Wassup?”
“Something downstairs.”
“Bloody cat.”
“No. It sounded bigger.”
“Bloody dog then.”
“No! Bigger.”
“Bloody kids.”
“Bigger!”
“Bigger?”
“Yeah. Lots bigger.”
Mick purses lips. “Burglar?”
Eyes wide. “Yeah.”
“Big burglar?”
“Yeah.”
“Good.”
“Wot?”
“Then he can take the bloody cat, bloody dog and bloody kids. Goodnight!”

 …the trick with short stories is to use your reader’s knowledge of the world to your advantage. I didn’t need to say these two are in bed and asleep when the story starts; I didn’t need to say it’s most likely the middle of the night (Most burglars don’t work afternoons, after all). “Elbows him awake” takes care of most of that in three words. Mick has a name, but his partner doesn’t. Trim the fat and leave what you need.

Short stories don’t need to be that short either. Technically, anything under 20,000 words is ‘a short story’, so you have a lot of room to move around in. Most of mine come to between 1500 and 3000 words, for example.

The real fun with short stories is to take what the readers assume and find a way to twist the end. So a short story about a man exploring an alien world turns out to be a robot exploring earth, for instance. Or drop in a humorous spin, like “Bigger”.

Here a great one from science fiction master of the twist and short, Frederic Brown:

“Earth was dead after the last atomic war. Nothing grew, nothing lived. The last man sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

Everything you need is right there. We know who the story is about, we know the world he lives in, and there’s even a hook for suspense. Twenty seven words to create a world and tell a story.

Shorter than that? Here’s a (possibly apocryphal) story from Ernest Hemingway:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Short stories are a great way of perfecting the art of keeping the bits you don’t need out of your novels as well. Sharpen your skills on them and it will always serve you well.

(Reblogged from Musings: The Blog of Tony Talbot)

 ***

Where can we find you?

Find me online at Amazon, @authortony, http://www.tony-talbot.co.uk – or drop by for a chat at Goodreads.

Thanks for taking part in Indie Month, Tony!

Tony’s Writing Tips: Remember every scar

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” – Stephen King.

 

I was e-mailing an Antipodean writing friend the other day. I’d sent her the first page of my WIP and explaining a little where it came from, when that quote from Stephen King popped into my head.

A little backstory: The first page of my WIP has a character shoot someone. It’s a kicker of an opening, but what I was telling my friend was where it came from. I’ve never shot anyone in my life (You’ll be delighted to know), never even held a gun, loaded or otherwise. Air pistol and air rifle – shot at a few empty cans – but never a gun.

The shooting isn’t the important part, and not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the person who did the shooting, which will – trust me on this – get me back to the quote at the top.

I have a not-seen-in-years cousin in the police. More years ago than I can date, he told me (or my dad while I was listening) that he’d had someone point a gun at him. At the time, he was as professional and calm as his training taught him. But he said after the incident, he was still shaking hours later.

So my character shoots someone, calmly and professionally, as they were taught. Then they realise what they’ve just done and the effects hit them.

Which brings me to my point (told ya!) and the quote above: Writers never forget anything.

We can, indeed, point to every scar and tell you its story. In detail.

Everything we’ve ever seen will probably end up in one of our stories somewhere; from the shop assistant who compulsively stretches her sweater cuff over her wrist (Eight Mile Island) from someone who loves rainstorms (Over the Mountain). Everything gets stored and sifted in a writers head and pulled out when we need it.

I’m very lucky in the regard that I have a pretty good memory. I do remember the most obscure occurrences years later – even if I can’t accurately date them. It’s not so useful for real life – I can’t remember how to fold bath towels for instance, which drives my wife mad every week.

But if you don’t recall things as well, then write it down. Or sketch it. Or scribble yourself a note when you come across something. Do whatever works so you remember it.

You never know when it’s going to be useful.

 

Tony’s Tech: A Front end for KindleGen

For those of you going, huh? at that title, you can skip this post. The Kindle authors out there can dig in and enjoy…

Last year, I had to demonstrate to a small group of people the way to create a .mobi file. I’d been using Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) for a while, but it seems like Amazon are tightening up on creating files without using KindleGen (Certainly the last time I used Calibre, the Amazon uploader kicked it back out).

The only choice was using the lousy Amazon command line KindleGen program (Seriously, what is this, 1998?). But trying to explain command lines and file paths in DOS to a group of people who had barely used a computer was really out of the question.

So I Googled and searched around for a while…and I wrote my own front end for KindleGen in .hta and VisualBasic.

Untitled

 

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Tell it where the KindleGen application is, tell it where the document is you want converting to .mobi. It takes that input, makes a compound statement and spits out the .mobi at the end in the same location as the document in the second box.

No fuss, no bother.

I really have to wonder if someone with as little coding experience as me can make something simpler than fighting your way through DOS pathways – in less than a week – why couldn’t Amazon?

Feel free to modify it as you like, but let me know if you make it all singing and dancing – I’d love to see it (Especially if someone figures out a way of adding a cover).

Download it here.

Writing Tips: Tony Talbot: The Brand

When I started self-publishing back in 2008, I came across an interesting concept: The writer as a brand item and marketed as such.

It seemed a little odd to me at the time, but I see the logic of it now: Your readers see very few images of you, or even better, just one. Think of McDonalds and you think of Golden Arches and wheat field yellow and red, for instance.

Quite a few years ago, Stephen King decided he wanted to sell books under a different name, for a variety of reasons. So he quietly sold books under the name Richard Bachman with minimal publicity. One book sold about ten thousand copies or so…but when he re-published the book as Stephen King, it sold an order of magnitude more. That’s the power of a writer as a brand, as a consumer item.

So all writers do it, even the big six. They all have a Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag, a YouTube channel and countless other ways of getting their name out there. We’re all waving our arms and shouting as loud as we can, after all. And it helps that everywhere you go, it’s always the same thing you’re looking for.

I’ve seen this again and again from writers…they’re asked to be A Brand. To promote their books themselves as part of that brand, go on lecture tours, do readings from bits of their books, and so on. To give people a face to attach to the name.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, a few weeks ago I changed my author picture from this 2012 pic (A very hot day in Washington State):

61EZUOfoH1L._UY200_

 

…to this 2015 one (Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire)…

 

TT-2015

 

Doesn’t seem like much of a deal, does it?

But think about it again…this author picture is the virtual image I send out to the world and the one that sits on my little business cards I give out to people. What do I want it to say about me? What brand image do I want to have?

It’s a serious business when this picture is how most of my readers see me most of the time. After all, ninety-nine percent of what I am as a writer is virtual; I’m mostly just binary.

So I asked for comments on Facebook before I went with it, and someone suggested I lighten the pic, so I did that. I cropped it a little as well and I cut off my feet (Hurt like hell). The same person also commented the stones and the countryside make me look like a writer of fantasy…see what I mean about branding? I decided I could live with that though.

There are also technical considerations. How does this picture look when it’s shrunk to a thumbnail or on one of my little business cards, for instance? How does it look on a mobile device?

And there are also the number of places this picture has to be updated: Goodreads, Booklikes, Twitter, WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Facebook, Amazon US, Amazon UK. My Gravatar avatar. Two places on my website. Physically, I’m going to have to change my business cards as well.

It might look like a small matter – changing one picture to another – but even for a small writer like me, that’s a dozen or so places. If I get it wrong or change my mind, I’ll have to do all those pictures again. There are places I can’t change – reviewers who have my old picture on their site, for instance – but you do what you can with what you’ve got.

Why does it matter? Being Tony Talbot, The Brand means everywhere you find me, I look the same.

Just like McDonalds: You’ll always know what to look for.

 

(Reblogged from Musings – The Blog of Tony Talbot)

Tony’s Tips: Explain yourself!

When you write a story, at some point, you’ll probably have to step out of the narrative and tell your readers what a piece of equipment or technology is, or give them some backstory. In literal terms, this is exposition – “the portion of a story that introduces important background information to the audience.”

There are a couple of ways of doing this, some good and some to be avoided at all costs. Let’s start with the awful one.

Imagine your character at a red stop light, and have them explain to your passenger – a driver of twenty years – that you weren’t allowed to go until it went green.

 “As you know”

“So what did Celia say?”

I decelerated smoothly and squeezed the brake until the car came to a halt. Arnold looked around him, and I pointed out the red light.

“As you know Arnold, the red light is to allow better traffic flow. It gives a chance for other traffic streams to merge.”

“By making you stop, Chris?”

“Yes, and giving the other traffic a chance to go. Celia said she would think about it.”

Ugh. Euch. Why is the character explaining things to Arnold if he already knows them? Why is Arnold replying like that? No one talks like this.

For a really bad example of this, there’s a scene in the middle of “North by Northwest” by Alfred Hitchcock where a character explains what’s going on…to a room full of people who already know it.

Also, there’s another really clumsy exposition device in there – the name of the other character in the dialogue:

“Hello, Adam,” said Bob.

“Hello, Bob,” said Adam.

Just….no. Find another way to give your reader your character’s name. Please.

Infodump

 “So what did Celia say?”

I decelerated smoothly and squeezed the brake until the car came to a halt. Arnold looked around him at the red light. The phased light system allowed better traffic flow and gave other traffic streams a chance to merge with our own by making us stop and giving them a chance to go.

“She said she’d think about it.”

That’s not that bad actually, but I’ve dumped a whole bunch of information right into the middle of the plot…it’s still a little clumsy and awkward. And imagine if this went on for more than a paragraph. Or a page…or two…or if the writer gave you a complete history of the traffic light system from antiquity. It has its place, but use it cautiously.

For an example, see Hitchcock again…watch the last act of “Psycho”, and there’s not much in there but a character giving an infodump on what made Norman crazy.

 Basil Exposition

This is the most common form of exposition, one we’re all familiar with, I think. James Bond (or Austin Powers) walks into his office and a man behind a desk tells him what he has to do. Bond goes off and does it.

It’s simple, and it gets the exposition out of the way fast. It works in more than Bond films as well. The first part of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” after the boulder dash isn’t much more than US government guys telling Indy what they need.

In a literary sense, this is your prologue. (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”) Prologues, though, have pretty much gone out of fashion in stories, and given way to exposition that goes on throughout, and throwing your characters and readers in at the deep end right at the start.

Another way of providing exposition is to provide a glossary. Although this is a little clumsy again, it does help. I read an Australian John Marsden book and didn’t know that a “ute” meant a pickup truck until I read the glossary, for instance.

 Bounce it off someone

This is a variation on the Basil Exposition, where Basil is new to the world of your character, and acts as a sounding board for the exposition…Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, for example.

 “So what did Celia say?”

I decelerated smoothly and squeezed the brake until the car came to a halt.

Arnold looked around him, puzzled. “Why did we stop?”

I pointed out the red light. “The red light is to allow better traffic flow. It gives a chance for other traffic streams to merge.”

“Oh. We stop on green on my planet.”

“Really? Anyway, Celia said she’d think about it.”

You can also make it more explicit in a first person story and have them break the fourth wall, speaking directly to the reader:

I decelerated smoothly and squeezed the brake until the car came to a halt at a red light. I should explain that the phased light system allowed better traffic flow and gave other traffic streams a chance to merge with our own by making us stop and giving them a chance to go.

Don’t do it at all

Let your readers figure it out – show them, don’t tell them. Tricky for new worlds and universes, but you might be able to get away with a variation like this:

 “So what did Celia say?”

I decelerated smoothly and squeezed the brake until the car came to a halt at a red light. When it turned green, I accelerated again.

“Celia said she’d think about it.”

 

As a last piece of advice, as much as possible, I would always put exposition when something else is going on:

 I decelerated smoothly and squeezed the brake until the car came to a halt. Arnold looked around him at the red light.

“Why did we stop? Celia is still behind us.”

“If we jump the light, we’ll hit the merging traffic for sure. We need the car in one piece. Better to wait for the green light and then punch it.”