Exposition 101 – SPELL SWEEPER
Today, we continue to unravel that most dreaded of all fantasy writing phenomena… EXPOSITION!
Oh, so messy…
Writers know that getting exposition onto the page can be a messy process–but maybe not as messy as cleaning up magical residue! Just ask Cara Moone, protagonist of Lee Edward Födi’s hilarious and heartfelt middle grade fantasy, SPELL SWEEPER. Födi takes a fascinating approach to exposition, but first, let me just plug this book because it is delightful!
Imagine a magic school story, like HARRY POTTER or KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, but instead of the protagonist being the chosen one… she’s the custodian’s assistant. What’s more, she has to clean up dangerous enchantments left over after ‘real’ wizards are done with their spellcasting. That’s the hilarious premise of SPELL SWEEPER. But this novel isn’t just a parody. There’s action, adventure, and a bittersweet backstory between the protagonist and her sister that adds depth alongside the laughs. (Plus, the wizard school’s in Canada–woot! Represent!)
One problem with exposition is that it jars readers out of the ‘present’ of the narrative. There we are, rolling along from event to event when suddenly we have to pause and learn about some element of the setting or a character’s backstory. Exposition interrupts the flow, especially in novels for kids, where keeping the story moving is key. Therefore, authors are always trying to hide little bits of exposition in a story without making them stand out too much.
But here’s the thing: Födi’s crafted a compelling narrative in SPELL SWEEPER that still uses tons of exposition. In fact, he’s got entire sections devoted to exposition and they aren’t hiding–they’re designed to stand out! These Exposition Sections aren’t officially called chapters, but they always come with page breaks. Plus, they feature added graphics, shading, and font changes, all of which clearly distinguish them from the normal narrative.
Normal chapter vibes.
Exposition section vibes: broom graphic, shaded pages, bold font.
There are a LOT of these exposition sections in SPELL SWEEPER. Twenty-three, to be precise, compared with thirty-eight ‘normal’ chapters. So, what do these exposition sections do? And why do they work when exposition usually feels clunky and boring?
What do the exposition sections do?
Födi uses his exposition sections for two main purposes:
Show us memories that reveal character backstory (10 sections)
Explain magic and the world/setting of the story (13 sections)
Why do they work?
There’s a few reasons why the exposition in SPELL SWEEPER works:
Short & Sweet – In some books, exposition just goes on too long. In SPELL SWEEPER, the exposition sections are usually only 1-2 pages, so we get back to the narrative quickly.
Even Stevens: –The exposition scenes are fairly evenly distributed throughout the book, about once every 2-3 chapters, so we never stray too far from the main story.
LOLOLOL – The sections that explain magic and setting are FUNNY! This is crucial! Info explained in a humorous way keeps kids reading. Info explained without humor makes kids feel like they’re studying a textbook.
If you ain’t 1st… The novel uses 1st-person narration, from Cara’s POV. This makes it feel like a friend is sharing info with us in a conversation. 3rd-person info dumps feel like the author delivering a lecture.
The Present Is A Gift – Födi uses present tense throughout the book, even in memories and flashbacks, to make events feel immediate. Novels written in past tense sometimes resort to past perfect in flashbacks, which get real clunky. (Think, a lot of “had had.”)
Emotional impact – Out of 10 Character Backstory sections, 5 focus on Cara’s relationship with her big sister, which is the emotional core of the story.
‘List’ but not least – 7 of the 13 sections that explain magic and setting are in LIST format. This adds visual variety, more white space on the page, and makes it easy to sum up a lot of info quickly.
So, while wizards may live in hiding from us Muggles–or Blisses, as Födi calls them–sometimes an author’s best bet is to keep exposition in plain sight, especially if it’s fast and funny.
I highly recommend you get your hands on SPELL SWEEPER, and if you’re still grappling with exposition, check out last week’s post, Exposition 101 – FABLEHAVEN.