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Event Report | MasterClass-Xia Jia: Write the “Exposition” better than the story


Xia Jia has been writing science fiction since her secondary school days and is mostly self-taught. As her career has progressed, she said her very understanding of the concept of science fictions has changed dramatically. In her early phase as a writer, she felt the most important element of science fiction writing was to find an “idea” that no one had written before. But by the time she was in college, she realized that captivating descriptive material was also critical. Researching this area, she found new inspiration in the world of “Exposition”.


In this MasterClass as part of the EU-China International Literature Festival, Xia Jia shared her creative experience. Not only a famous science fiction writer, Xia Jia is an academic, literary translator, screenwriter, editor and creative writing lecture. Seven of her stories have won the Galaxy Awards, and her first English collection A Summer Beyond Your Reach: Stories was published in 2021. In this MasterClass Xia Jia presented ideas on crafting fictional non-fiction and exposition in science fiction.


What is “Exposition” in science fiction?
The concept of “Exposition” was expounded upon in Thoughts on Exposition written by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Kim Stanley Robinson is a science fiction writer and a Marxist scholar, who studied under the contemporary Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson. Due to such an academic background, Kim Stanley Robinson formed his own Marxist science fiction critical theory.


Xia Jia was deeply inspired by many perspectives put forward by Kim Stanley Robinson in Thoughts on Exposition. “This article has a target for its argument at the beginning. Probably everyone who writes fiction has heard of it. It’s called ‘Show, don’t tell’,” she said. This golden rule, which has long been recognized in mainstream literature circles, is considered by Kim Stanley Robinson to be worthy of both reflection and criticism.


Kim Stanley Robinson further said that when a writer’s quest is to write a well-rounded story that meets the expectations of all readers and conforms to so-called universal values, it also means that they are ideologically archaic and conservative. “Though a well-told story may sell well, but for science fiction writing, because it’s supposed to be a critical theory, it shouldn’t just go for the old formula. What it should pursue is something beyond the traditional formula, so it can provide ‘Novum’,” Xia Jia added.


How to present “Novum” with “Exposition”
When writing a story, if you want to present “Novum”, something truly new, you need to go beyond the describing formula, the “Exposition” part delivering background material for the story. Xia Jia took the science fiction writer Ursula LeGuin’s magnum opus The Left Hand of Darkness as an example, analyzing the non-fictional part of the book. “So in her writing, the discipline of anthropology, you can see the charm of it. To read anthropology, although there may be stories and characters in it, but you’re not just reading a funny story. You want to know about humans, and how we can live in other ways,” Xia Jia said, showing how LeGuin can write a fictional story using non-fictional techniques.


To further examine this exposition concept, Xia Jia recommended three books: Long Road Ahead by Ted Chiang, Ken Liu’s Documentary: The Man Who Ended History, and her own The Goodnight Blues. Using these illustrations, we can witness how writers can seamlessly integrate narratives, non-fiction and the plot.




– Report by EU-China International Literary Festival Team
– Translated into English by Liu Xu