Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Exposition and Dialogue

Dan Brown

Lesson time 16:45 min

Learn how to craft exposition that appeals to your reader's senses and write dialogue that communicates essential information while simultaneously revealing character.

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Topics include: Appeal to Your Reader's Senses • Keep Prose Transparent • Delineate Flashbacks Clearly • Use Past Perfect Tense to Ease Into Flashbacks • Use Present Tense for Fact • Find Interesting Ways to Share Information • Exposition Case Study: Origin • Think of Dialogue Like Music • Create Dialogue of Conflict or Revelation • Put Your Characters in Motion • Intersperse Dialogue and Exposition Effectively


One of the easiest ways to bring your exposition to life is to appeal to your reader's senses. Don't just tell them what it looks like. Tell them what it smells like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. If a character walks into a seedy bar, don't just tell them that it's dark and smoky. Tell them what's playing on the jukebox. Tell them about the grit under their feet as they walk across the floor, and they will immediately feel like they are there. Appeal to your reader's senses. That's the way that we as human beings experience the world. A great way to attack exposition is to reveal something through a character's eyes. Have your character look up and describe, internally, what they're seeing. Robert Langdon looked up, and this is what he saw. Now when you do that, you have to remember that the way human beings look at something is their eye travels. They don't sort of look there and then look there and look over there. Your writing should do the same thing. We should have the experience as a reader of looking up at the ceiling and seeing the fresco and following the columns down to the floor, and then looking at the floor and then noticing somebody coming in the room. That is the way a human being experiences a space. And your description should work the same way. It's subtle, but the effect is very powerful. And you will know, as a reader, immediately if somebody hasn't done that. You will have the experience of being almost disembodied, that you're suddenly looking there, then you're looking here, then you're looking here, and there's no continuity, and what happens is you get pulled out of the story. And you, as a writer, never want your reader to be pulled out of the story. You want the experience to be a human experience, a natural experience. So when you give exposition, give it the way a reader would experience it. When I was a young writer, I had a fantastic writing teacher who told me your writing should be transparent. The best writing is the writing that simply communicates, and that's an important thing to remember. You're not writing a book to show off how many words you know or what sort of crazy syntax you can use. You're writing to communicate. You're writing to tell a story. And so the prose that you create should, especially in the thriller genre, be transparent. Your reader should forget that he or she is even reading. So part of your job is to use language that is appropriate to the book that you're writing. It's okay to know a lot more words than you use in a novel. You're serving your reader. You're trying to create prose that is accessible, is transparent, and serves the story. It doesn't serve your reader to hit a word that is so obscure that they have to stop and look it up to know what you're talking about. It takes them out of the reading experience. Your job is to keep them in the reading experience for the entirety of your novel. There's a wonderful Hemingway quote about the importance ...

About the Instructor

Packed with secret symbols and high-stakes suspense, Dan Brown’s thrillers have sold more than 250 million copies and include one of the world’s best-selling novels, The Da Vinci Code. In his writing class, Dan unveils his step-by-step process for turning ideas into gripping narratives. Learn his methods for researching like a pro, crafting characters, and sustaining suspense all the way to a dramatic surprise ending.

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Dan Brown

In his first-ever online class, best-selling author Dan Brown teaches you his step-by-step process for turning ideas into page-turning novels.

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