Fiction is incredibly difficult to write. While a writer of any text is responsible for their world's creation, the author of fiction does not always choose to situate themselves in a world that works the same way as the one we live in. Sometimes, they choose to create a new one with their own societal norms, their own sciences, arts, species, anything that can be imagined. The writer is responsible for not only making all of that work, but making it accessible to readers.
The question of how to make complicated concepts accessible has been common in discussions on writing theory and practice. While some methods have been widely debated, majority consensus recognizes introducing complex or largely unfamiliar concepts slowly, preferably one at a time.
The act of spreading exposition-centric information over a span of text is known as "seeding." Evan Skolnick (2014) states that, "spreading out your exposition, like seeding a lawn, is vital to avoiding overwhelming the audience with information at any given point. And the most important place to avoid exposition overload is in the place your story can least afford to test an audience's patience: at the very beginning."
Skolnick makes a very good point because the tendencies of some rhetors lead them to bring vital information that might be unnecessary at the time or confusing to the beginning. The reader or viewer must be drawn in. They need to find the world interesting.
In seeding, that's not an immediate priority. Rather, forming a means to a reader's understanding comes first. Creating a hook comes second. To clarify, the "hook" or draw would come first in the text, but would not have been the first to be written or planned.
Have you, as a rhetor, achieved accessibility through an even distribution of exposition that will help a reader or viewer to understand your worldbuilding and then presented that in an appealing way?
Night in the Woods is a 2017 adventure game developed by Secret Lab and Infinite Fall and written by Bethany Hockenberry and Scott Benson. The game opens on Mae Borowski returning to her small home town of Possum Springs. To help the player learn the controls, Mae is given the task of having to break out of the area surrounding the local train station to get back to her family home. The player learns right away that Mae comes off as very aloof, very street smart, a little reckless, and quick-witted. However, as the game progresses, the player gets to know Mae and her friends better.
This game does a great job of seeding in that the player only ever knows as much as Mae knows at any given time except, because the player and Mae are two different people, we might pick up on cues that aren't very obvious to Mae.
Seen as one of the game's most compelling characters, Beatrice "Bea" Santello does not initially great Mae's arrival favorably, though it's hinted that they were once very close friends.
When a revelation allows the complicated relationship between Bea and Mae further conversation, she reveals, "My entire life feels like running after something that keeps moving away into the distance, while I stay in the same place... and I guess proximity counts for a lot right now" (Hockenberry and Benson, 2017). In this scene, Mae is asking Bea if she believes that they would still have become friends if they were not in such close proximity to one another. Bea doesn't ignore the question, but doesn't attach less meaning to her friendship with Mae even if it had been based in proximity.
In order to keep up with the seeding, the majority of the writing is based in dialogue. Because of that, the writing is less concerned with rules and more concerned with expression. Had the writing gone beyond dialogue, this game might have run the risk of revealing too much information to the player at any given time, and this game can be seen as a case study in the timing of distribution of information in narratives.
Something I often tell clients is that while holding back information is important to a story's progression, the reader or viewer will need enough of that information to follow their thread. Putting themselves in the perspective of a reader can help immensely with this, possibly a comparison between what the reader knows and what the different characters in the story know in terms of both worldbuilding and plot points.
Seeding is a highly effective and highy recommended method of exposition distribution, though is by no means the only strategy available and it isn't for every story, it is a great means for planning and a tried and true narrative construction method.
Thank you very much to everyone who has given me feedback on Purposeful Prose thus far and thank you to all of those who share my deep love for Night in the Woods. It is truly an inspiring, humorous, and surprising game with well-rounded resonant characters.
If you are interested in being the first to receive updates from Purposeful Prose, you can become a member. Members can comment on posts and write on my forum. If you are interested in joining my deep dive into Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick, I highly recommend buying a copy from your local independent bookstores or Bookshop.org because proceeds go directly to local independent bookstores and benefit local libraries.
As always, I look forward to hearing your thougths!
Infinite Fall (2017). Night in the Woods [Steam]. Infinite Fall
Skolnick, E. (2014). Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques (Illustrated ed.). Watson-Guptill.