Friday, August 26, 2011

bearable exposition

I get the feeling that all writers churning out candidates for the mainstream bestseller lists have to deal with exposition a lot more often than writers of works that are less mainstream. Some of these writers turn this devil around and decide to take the opportunity to show off all the research they have done (Crichton did this well; Dan Brown does not).

Intermission: Can you imagine Anthony Burgess writing A Clockwork Orange in the style of Dan Brown? The book would have been thicker and loaded with interleaved explanations of nadsat and descriptions of the prison, its architecture, its history and who knows what else. A title like Fruits and Mechanics would have topped this cake of futility.

I'm on a Michael Connelly buffet right now and the 8 books I have read have introduced me to exposition of various flavours and of varying levels of subtlety (or the complete lack of it, in some cases), but his exposition never strays beyond the realm of the police procedural and the court room. This, I think, is a good thing. It would have been unbearable to wade through a mini-treatise on the architecture of the courthouse just as we were about to begin an interesting trail.

Some of the books are written in the first person. This allows the writer to be more liberal in the exposition, because, after all, this is supposed to be a man or woman telling you a story. The more details you get, the better. A lot of exposition that might otherwise stick out like a sore elephant in a regular third-person narrative goes down easier when Jack McAvoy or Mickey Haller is writing to you, dear reader.

I tend to prefer little to no exposition (which is why I admire the bold stroke of the glossary in Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games: you read the tale with its natural rhythms and later use the glossary to understand the vernacular), but I can understand the need for it in mainstream fiction. Besides, fitting it into the narrative without losing the reader is not trivial. Given this, I liked the few examples from the 8 books I had read so far, where the exposition was adroitly placed just like a shot/reverse shot scene where the cutting didn't bother you. Here's an example from The Brass Verdict (I have taken the liberty of marking the relevant sections):

"Two arrests. ADW in 'ninety-seven and conspiracy to commit fraud in 'ninety-nine. No convictions but that is all I know for right now. When the court opens I can get more if you want."
I wanted to know more, especially about how arrests for fraud and assault with a deadly weapon could result in no convictions, but if Cisco pulled records on the case, then he'd have to show ID and that would leave a trail.

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