>>1868>somepony examines Spike after… well, after bad things happened to him
There's your interesting material, so show that. Unless you're having to tone down gore, and then you show reactions. Simple.
> If you feel the need to do some straight exposition, at least precede it with. "Twilight looked at X. (Description of X.)" or something similar.
With all respect, why? It doesn't matter what the author wants. It matters what the characters want and what the reader can be expected to want.
Say I cold-open like this:
Twilight Sparkle snuggled her spine into the back of the couch. She was perfectly cozy here despite the storm outside. Her tail lay in an elegant curve across her hindquarters, underscoring a large pink star emblazoned on her purple coat. One hoof swayed absently in the warm firelight. A crock of warm cider steamed forgotten on the table next to her, and most important of all, a book floated before her face, its covers aflicker with the lilac fire of her magic.
The same hue of light limned the horn set above her eyes, which skittered this way and that as she read.
Now where does this go? If the first story beat is Twilight reading something significant, I have wasted your time. Sure, this feels good, but the important part would be what Twilight is reading about, no?
All this description implies an observer, so that's one direction the story could go.
Fluttershy turned to leave. It wasn't that important after all, and Twilight looked so happy anyway. The floor squeaked under her hooves and Fluttershy froze in place. Twilight lowered her book and peered over it.
"Oh, um," Fluttershy began. Twilight didn't look annoyed yet, and for a moment Fluttershy thought she'd apologize and excuse herself. "It's not that important, but I…" A fresh breeze whistled through the trees outside and slapped a curtain of rain against the siding. Twilight tweaked an ear toward it but kept her eyes on Fluttershy's face, calm and unjudging.
Fluttershy hated wasting anypony's time, but since she had started she might as well finish. "I think the roof is leaking in my room. It's getting a little wet."
Vonnegut's rule is that every sentence advances plot or character, which I think is what you're getting at, but you can be even more bullish:
Cutting to scenery implies something about the story. Cutting to irrelevant scenery implies your perspective doesn't want to tell the reader something. Maybe it's boring, or embarrassing, or too gross, or too sexy, but not
telling is itself a message to the reader.
Sending that message when it doesn't mean anything is obnoxious, so don't do it.
Turing back to my example, we also have to question each detail. Presumably, my readers are familiar with MLP characters and races and so forth, so the fact I get all interested in what Twilight looks like is another possible message.
Maybe this is a story for non-pony fans. They'll automatically assume that characters are vaguely human-shaped, so maybe I want to get hooves and tails and unicorn magic in their minds to help their imaginations get started.
But even if that's the case (and doubly especially if not) my choice of topic is a message too: the perspective, Fluttershy, cares about what Twilight looks like. Maybe it's physical sympathy - Flutters would be happy to be reading, too. Maybe it's aesthetic appreciation. Maybe she's deep down wondering if Twilight can keep reading while somepony's cuddling the heck out of her. Maybe she's struck immobile with social anxiety.
And those are just the possibilities if I start from knowing Fluttershy's character. Readers will have all those and more floating around incoherently in their heads. My job is to draw order from chaos.
Thinking along those lines gives me a possible ending…
sketched quickly just to signpost where I'm going.
"And that," Twilight declared while throwing the last scrap of lumber across the door [to Fluttershy's room], "is that!" She rolled a towel and stuffed it into the jamb to keep the water out and, sure enough, that was that.
"Aren't you worried mu-muh- more of the cabin will collapse?"
Twilight shook her head. "This is the old part, built on solid rock. I don't know what we were thinking building the addition like that. Somepony could've got…"
Fluttershy didn't even realize she was shaking until Twilight wrapped her in a tight hug. They were both drenched, of course, so it was an icky, wet, and cold hug, but that meant maybe Twilight wouldn't notice Fluttershy was crying - she didn't know why. Fluttershy felt jittery and weak and Twilight felt strong and a maybe little warm until another drop of cold water dripped from either pony's mane.
"I messed up," Twilight said. "I was not expecting the storm to be this bad." She didn't say how either one of them could have joined the streak of wooden jetsam now spread down the face of the cliff. Fluttershy shook and didn't mention it either and after a moment Twilight pulled herself away.
"I should have put us in the cellar. It's not the nicest place, but I'm really starting to see the wisdom of living under solid stone." Twilight gathered their remaining possessions. "I'm sorry. I never should have dragged you out here. It's my research project after all, and-"
"Twilight," Fluttershy said. "Do you remember why the Princess sent you to Ponyville in the first place? Now I know I'm probably not the best friend to have in the middle of a hurricane, but I'm sure I'm at least as anxious as you are to see how the creatures here are dealing with it. And what help they need, of course. Thank you for inviting me on this adventure."
Twilight, their bags floating around her head, turned and looked into Fluttershy's eyes. "Oh," she said. "Right. No. Thank you."
"Just, no more adventure for the moment. If you can help it."
The door that Twilight pried open was dusty and stuck in its frame with disuse. With a glow conjured on the tip of her horn, she led them into the most comfortable cave Fluttershy had ever seen. Then again, she'd never been in a unicorn cave before. True, the floor was cold stone, but it was perfectly flat. Rugs and blankets and a fire built in the cellar's small hearth soon cured the chill.
The storm howled and boomed outside. The ponies sheltered below. Once she had the fire going, she turned to face Fluttershy. "So I don't know… what do you say when you nearly get a good friend killed?"
Fluttershy blinked. "I have no idea. Um… Thanks for not?" She smiled and changed the subject. "So, sorry your couch got wrecked. And I interrupted your reading. I hate when somepony does that."
"Oh," Twilight said. "Yeah… that. It's not a bad story, actually. Want to hear it?"
Twilight unzipped a bag, but Fluttershy was already digging through one of hers. "Thanks, but I brought my own if you don't mind."
Twilight took a place in front of the fire, sprawled out on her side and looking up into her book. Moments later, Fluttershy joined her and, just because it seemed the right thing to do, snuggled her side against Twilight's back. Twilight didn't complain, so she half-opened a wing across Twilight's ribs.
The storm outside screamed and somewhere not too far away a tree thudded against the ground. It was good just to be together. Back to side and silent they read.
So, yeah… Where was I?
Oh, yes:> If you feel the need to do some straight exposition, at least precede it with. "Twilight looked at X. (Description of X.)" or something similar.
That or "something similar" I call a perspective tag. It reminds the reader whose perspective you're writing from. I do not think it excuses exposition
. It's only necessary when the perspective matters and is confusing. (Perhaps a perspective switch? Or you need to revise…) Otherwise, just say what you need to say and skip what you don't.