Extreme Exposition
June 19, 2014 5:16 PM   Subscribe

I wish to read fiction that has a very high ratio of exposition imparted to amount of actual writing.


My idea of an Ur-example of this would be entirely dialog, with no non-dialog descriptions. Of anything. It would depict a complex world/universe, set of characters, language tone, detailed history, visuals, actions taken and events unfolding, with as little non-vital wordage as possible.

The author that comes to mind who does this best is William Gibson, where he can use a three word phrase to make it seem like you've known this intricate, novel, yet entirely brand new concept for years. His opposite would be someone like Neal Stephenson. Love the guy, but brevity in exposition is not his forté.

I'm more interested in the structure and process of this kind of writing, so it does NOT necessarily need to be the most enjoyable thing one has ever seen, though pleasant reading would be nice. Stunt writing (i.e. something done just to see how workable this concept is) would be interesting, too. Writing education material would be OK, but not ideal.

This probably happens most in short stories, but I'd rather read novels. I would prefer hard science/speculative fiction over other genres, but anything you've got is great.
posted by Evilspork to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This question has been kicking around in my head for a while, but what made me finally spit it out is Ancillary Justice, particularly the thing about gloves. I'm only a third of the way through and the little hints dropped here and there are magical.
posted by Evilspork at 5:24 PM on June 19, 2014

I suggest Ablutions, by Patrick DeWitt. It is written entirely in the second person.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:19 PM on June 19, 2014

I may be misunderstanding the question, but I wonder if some epistolary novels might be helpful? Or even plays?
posted by brentajones at 7:10 PM on June 19, 2014

There are certainly descriptions in "The Great Gatsby," but it stands out to me as a book in which not a single word is wasted. It tells a very nuanced story, and portrays a world in an incredibly rich level of detail that isn't matched in most novels five times as long.

There's a reason it's considered one of the greatest novels ever written.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:29 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

JR, by William Gaddis.
posted by town of cats at 8:40 PM on June 19, 2014

Do you mean lots of incluing, as in Heinlein's "The door irised open" or Delany's "The door deliquesced"? I'm not positive without reviewing their work, but for some reason when I think of that in science fiction the folks who come to mind are also great short fiction writers, e.g. Cordwainer Smith or Alfred Bester.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:47 PM on June 19, 2014

Oh, and outside of science fiction, P. G. Wodehouse is amazing at this, e.g. "Jeeves shimmered in." Try The Code of the Woosters.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:49 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know what you mean about William Gibson, and I find Thomas Harris' novels satisfying in a similar way.
posted by neushoorn at 12:21 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the PERFECT book for you. PERFECT, I tell you. Ben Marcus - the Age of Wire and String. Definitely the strangest, weirdest and hardest book I have read - and it has a strong whiff of speculative fiction about it (my bf thought was definitely SF and others are less sure). It's hardcore, extreme exposition to the point where it is only exposition and you the reader have to work out the actual story from the extreme exposition.

I won't guarantee that you'll enjoy the read, but it is an exceptional book both in the way it is written & constructed, and how it stays with you afterwards.

Seriously. Fits what you are looking for a T.
posted by kariebookish at 2:37 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wait, does the OP mean what kariebookish describes, or the opposite?
posted by umbú at 5:24 AM on June 20, 2014

I'm also finding this question a little bit unclear, but, for a mostly-dialogue reading experience, you can't hardly beat the works of Elmore Leonard.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:01 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

James Ellroy might be up your street. I've only read (and loved) his LA Quartet, but they get increasingly punchy as they go on. IIRC, he needed to dramatically shorten one of his books, and instead of removing plot, he removed unnecessary words.
posted by Magnakai at 7:27 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

"My idea of an Ur-example of this would be entirely dialog, with no non-dialog descriptions."

I think you're working with a different definition of the word "exposition" than I am.

In any case, Alan Garner's "Red Shift" is a novel written in an extremely compact style. Long sequences are pure dialog, without even the "s/he said" (the speaker being implicit, but usually obvious if you're paying attention). There's some discussion of astronomy and also a storyline set in Roman England, which together give the story a whiff of both science fiction and fantasy, though it doesn't fall into either genre.

Alternatively his "The Owl Service" (young adult fantasy) and "The Stone Book Quartet" (historical fiction?) have a similarly compact dialog-driven style (though not to as extreme an extent) and might be easier to get into. I remember the latter especially as making good use of strange words in a way that's very evocative without directly explaining what they mean.

In the stunt category, Sorokin's "The Queue" is fun novel told entirely in dialog between people waiting in a line to buy something (they're not sure what) in Soviet Russia.
posted by bfields at 7:49 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait, does the OP mean what kariebookish describes, or the opposite?

OP wants good worldbuilding, but via dialogue.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2014

Why not read plays?
posted by Keith Talent at 10:47 PM on June 20, 2014

OP wants good worldbuilding, but via dialogue.

Or failing that, lots of worldbuilding in the fewest number of words. Basically the opposite of this.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:26 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

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