The Importance of Exposition in Story Telling


There are four most popular types of rhetorical modes of communication, which are also commonly referred to as modes of discourse. To put it in simpler terms, there are four primary types of writing or telling a story.

The Four Types of Rhetorical Modes of Communication

  1. Description: To recreate something in writing so the reader can imagine or visualize it in great detail.
  2. Narration: To tell a story or narrate a series of events in a logical order. This is most often done chronologically.
  3. Argumentation: This is also commonly referred to as persuasive writing, and it means to use sound reasoning to convince the reader of something.
  4. Exposition: To explain or describe something, usually historical information. This type of writing is most typically used to provide background information to readers so they understand the context or significance of something.

The Importance of Exposition

Exposition is more than just a type of writing, it is a literary tool. Exposition is a way of writing that provides background information to your readers, and it is used to portray something that has an implication on your story or characters. Expository writing can be used to present a new idea, provide relevant background evidence and also to provide contextualization.

Exposition is important because there are some historical details that help readers understand the full story. For example, in order to fully appreciate the common knowledge that the world is indeed round, it helps to provide historical contextualization regarding how people once thought the world was flat.

In non-academic writing, exposition can be used to create more dynamic and relatable characters. Character development is often used in novels and movies, and can be revealed through flashbacks or someone relying an important memory. Past details can be important to understanding someone’s personality and/or their present day trials and tribulations. If someone is having difficulty making a tough decision, it would help to know if they made a similar decision in the past and it did not have a positive outcome. Exposition can help explain their angst or hesitance. Exposition can also play an important role in personal essays and biographies.

How to Use Exposition

There are several ways writers can use exposition to help provide important historical information.

  • Flashback: A flashback is a piece of writing that goes back in time and tells a story within a story, something that happened prior to the present time of writing. In movies these are sometimes shown in black and white, or there’s a fade out to show that someone is talking about the past. Sometimes there are full chapters in books that are dedicated to back story, or exposition.
  • Dialogue: Writers can also reveal relevant background information in a conversation between two people. They can be reminiscing about a shared memory, or someone can be revealing information for the first time to someone else.
  • Narration: If a narrator is telling a story, then can break away from the present story and provide relevant background information in an explanatory fashion.

When to Use Exposition

Writers can use exposition at any time in their writing, there is no formulaic right or wrong in terms of placement. It all depends on what you’re writing and how you want to tell your story. Sometimes it might make sense to provide background information towards the beginning of a story, and sometimes it makes for a more engaging or suspenseful story if it’s revealed later on. Some classic movies may even wait until the last few moments of a story to reveal background information that ties the entire story together. The writer can choose how and when to reveal a significant back story.