Prator the Legendary
Mr. Pumpkin, the mere act of describing an object or presenting it for examination or demonstrating its use is a kind of explanation. If you'd never seen a knife in your life before, but you observed one in action, you would gain an understanding of what a knife is and how it functions on your own, without direct exposition. The author does not actually need to deliver exposition in order to explain anything. In fact, only the intentional withholding of any description can prevent you from developing your own explanation for how... something... works and why it works in that manner.
For instance, you read about a wizard who casts a fireball spell: the magickal forces involved create heat and flame that expand over an area. Without having the magic directly explained to you, you might conclude that the spell creates a cloud of combustable gas that explodes with concussive force when ignited.
The trick, I think, is to describe everything in such a way that the reader isn't inclined to question any part of what you've written; for all intents and purposes, what you've written is completely plausible. At the same time, you need to avoid using TOO MUCH description; fireball spells stop seeming fantastic if you know that they work by the Heisenburg Effect, developed by Gerald Heisenburg in 1963 as a consequence of experiments with Elemental Fire and pure oxygen.
In short, there must be just enough information to promote willing suspension of disbelief about every aspect of the story without actually revealing everything. It also helps if you play everything straight.
Bad Example 1: The Dresden Files series is urban fantasy. It's realistic, sort of (Gravity magic! Yay!), but the entire setting exists in an enormous plothole because the vast majority of the humans in the books somehow fail to notice the omnipresent magic that pervades every aspect of their lives. It would seem that mere skepticism just wouldn't cut it when actual trolls live under bridges and abduct human passerbys on a daily basis... Hence, the reader is left questioning the plausibility of the book.
Bad Example 2: : "The Force" in STAR WARS was what gave the story and setting a heavy mystical element in among all the robots and laser weapons. However, a new revelation has shown that apparently force-sensitivity is caused by the presence of symbiotic organisms called midichlorians: if you accept it, this revelation takes a fair amount of the mystique away. Hence, the reader has no questions; everything is completely straightforward and there's no mystery or magic left.
P.S.: I'm BSing this essay question. Stop me when what I'm saying is completely off-topic or ridiculous.
< Message edited by Prator the Legendary -- 8/20/2009 9:45:14 >