On Exposition and Setup…

I’ve seen more than one complaint now from SF/F writers about novels heavy on exposition and world-building. My own novel opener received a comment on just 3 lines of it (yes, three lines was too much for somebody!). I understand the annoyance of novels with large amounts of exposition, especially up front, but I say this:

As SF/F writers, we are envisioners of other worlds, times, states of being, etc., and I would hope that our readers expect such. Isn’t it our job to describe those visions? If the reader seeks alternative being, how else can we transport them into what we envision without describing it? And how will the reader KNOW what they are reading about otherwise? I don’t think anyone in the earliest 21st century has the ability to jump into my head and pull out the cultures and landscapes I create, so until they can, I will simply have to continue describing my world openly, and in as many words as I deem fit.  If I were writing a modern day mystery set in Chicago, the setup wouldn’t be as necessary–even the most rurally-reared reader can picture a North American city. But I’m writing about a human culture living on an alien planet in a different time, that requires exposition. 

So for those readers (and writers) who see openly-described world-building as the coming of the next plague, relax, sit back and let your minds flow through the picture I attempt to paint. Or don’t. Skip ahead to the action because I provide plenty of that too.

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