Buried In Footnotes

I knew a writer who had nightmares about tons of exposition slithering down on her like a landslide. It can feel like that to a reader, too: smothering deluges of fact that prevent any motion at all. Ever read a textbook with lots of footnotes? Remember how you tended to skip or ignore the footnotes? Now, those of you who've read Moby Dick: how many of you actually read every word of the cetology chapters telling the folklore, anatomy, and habits of whales?

(Being a thorough-going nature nut, I personally enjoy the cetology chapters. Just like a nice National Geographic special. But I know a lot of folk who feel otherwise.)

Exposition is the curse of several of the popular genres, including science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. There are all those facts to be explained: maybe a whole new universe to be accounted for, the languages and customs of the Elven races, not to mention all those suspects and alibis! Westerns and historical fiction, necessarily built on a bedrock of research, are perhaps even more prone to this problem. If these facts, research, and outright invention aren't controlled and subordinated to the plot's needs, they can take over and literally bury a story in footnotes masquerading as narration.

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