Having tantalized my future readers for three whole chapters with a main character who, while participating in a considerable amount of action, has so far failed to inform anyone (least of all the reader) what he's thinking or hoping to accomplish, the time has come for him to put his cards on the table.
Yes, the time has come for exposition. A lot of it, in what I hope will be a shortish amount of space.
I find myself looking with envy on Elizabethan drama. How pleasant it would be to have the character simply face front and say,
"Alas, that wormholes in their thousands be
The gates to worlds unnumber'd, and to villainy,"
and then go on for fifteen or sixteen lines, in which the character concisely (though with an elegant simile or two) explains his problem and what he intends to do about it, with or without a bare bodkin.
Unfortunately our current literary conventions to not allow for such direct methods of exposition. Ideally the exposition ("infodump") is inserted elegantly into the narrative, such that it does not impede the flow of the action with the dreaded "expository lumps."
One wants the mashed potatoes creamy, unmarred by gross chunks of starchy matter.
Avoiding starchy matter seems to be a thing that writers care about more than readers. Dan Brown's work is full of pages and pages of information dumped into the reader's lap through clumsy expository dialogue. Tom Clancy's characters regularly lecture each other about sabot rounds and missile throw-weights. These authors sell many more books than I do. Readers love this stuff, I think because it allows them to feel that they're learning something.
"But," as I have told my students, "just because the million-selling authors are doing it, doesn't mean that you should do it, too."
One of my favorite methods of exposition is to give a piece of dialogue in impenetrable jargon, followed by a paragraph or two of an omniscient narrator explaining what was just said and why it matters. I did this a lot in my old sea stories. Here's a direct quote:
"Tend the vangs and flag halliards. Ease the peak and foot inhauls and the brails. Haul away on the peak and foot outhauls. Belay."
At Martin's orders the spanker rumbled into life, the boom swinging to larboard as the canvas caught the wind; and the sleek schooner gained way, increasing the distance between herself and the enemy.
Not bad for a journeyman work. You get the jargon, then the bit of explanation that tells you what the jargon meant and what its effect was on the action. Plus the author gets to establish authority over his fictional world, in that he knows what such things as "peak and foot outhauls" might be, and what they're for. ("Watch out! I've got a spanker in my pocket and I know how to use it!")
Unfortunately the opportunities for jargon-dense dialogue was limited in my expository scene, so I didn't get to use this technique much.
Insofar as I have an omniscient narrator, it was theoretically possible for the narrator to simply insert a lecture explaining everything. This was a favorite technique during the Victorian period, where Victor Hugo had no problem with opening Notre Dame de Paris with a hundred-page infodump on medieval Paris, and fill 150 pages of Les Miserables with successive lectures on (1) the nunneries of Paris, (2) the gamins of Paris, and (3) French revolutionaries of the 1920s.
(And with no action in between! And I have to confess that the infodump on the revolutionaries did me in--- I never picked up the book again. I knew that the lecture on the sewers was bound to come soon.)
Still, direct exposition of this sort, though not as dead as the soliloquy, is no longer state-of-the-art in fiction. I was forced to rely on expository dialogue.
Theoretically, this isn't a bad thing. You can fill the dialogue with tasty little character bits, and you give the reader some idea how the characters view each other, and you can demonstrate your talent for witty dialogue, assuming of course you've got one. (Nothing more painful than witty dialogue that isn't, unless of course it's fifty pages on Parisian nunneries.)
But there are hazards. There is always the danger of "As you know, Bob" dialogue, where people tell each other things they already know. There's also the menace of the "bobblehead syndrome," where to break up the relentless march of dialogue, the writer keeps his characters nodding, blinking, tilting their heads quizzically, and then nodding some more. (Cigarettes are very handy in these scenes. The temptation to turn all my characters into smokers is always present.)
There is also a postmodern alternative, in which the characters know they're doing expository dialogue for the benefit of an audience, and they can just rip through it with a wink at the reader and everyone can have a good time. I didn't do this, not quite, but I came close.
Well, I have done what I could do. I had the protagonist encounter an old friend, so the dialogue was friendly and open, and gave glimpses of their past history, and a chance for the old friend to analyze the hero's actions by her own lights. I made it clear that they enjoyed one another's company, which meant that each might sit still for a lecture by the other, at least provided the lecture was brief and entertaining. I'm not sure I entirely avoided the characters telling each other things that they would likely have known, but I've done my best to minimize the obviousness of it.
In any case, I've got the infodump behind me, so that I can get on with the story.
And I've still got the spanker in my pocket, just in case I need one.