“Primary exposition is telling and showing to the audience the time and place of the story, the names and relationships of the characters, and the nature of the conflict.”
Irwin R. Blacker
The Elements of Screenwriting
“I crack up every time I’m watching a movie and a character says, ‘Let me get this straight…’ and then recaps everything!”
Screenwriter Diablo Cody
Keep it short. I’m trying to learn.
Ten years ago when I started blogging I used to write these long posts that were sometimes over 1,500 words. Today’s post is taken largely from the 2008 post Screenwriting & Exposition and boils it down to a shorter post.
Exposition being the thing spoken or shown that explains a situation or reveals a character. Ideally, it’s sprinkled into the story so it doesn’t feel clunky. Procedural TV shows are often guilty of the worst exposition, where things are over explained.
Here are 10 examples of exposition done the right way. (More effective if you know the movie and the context in which they were given. Exposition, as these show, can be a minor character reveal or a major plot twist.)
“Are you something else I’m going to have to live through?”
“What was your Childhood like?”
Escape from Alcatraz
“Dad was a Yankees fan then so, of course, I rooted for Brooklyn. But in ’58 the Dodgers moved away so we had to find other things to fight about.”
Field of Dreams
“I am your father.”
“I see dead people.”
The Sixth Sense
Sometimes exposition is straightforward, but still dramatic:
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire script shows that sometimes you just have to get the exposition directly out at the start to orientate the the audience.
And for #9 I’ve picked the opening of Jack Nickolson in As Good As it Gets because it’s a great example and reminder that exposition doesn’t have to be spoken.
And example #10 shows the old trick of burying exposition in action. And a reminder that it’s best not to reveal exposition until you have to.
“I am not left-handed either.”
The Princess Pride
P.S. And the best example of exposition in real life was a fellow I did a video interview with in London who said,”The memories of my father could be put on the back of a postage stamp.” That one lines says lot more than a typical movie scene than dumping a two-minute monologue on his relationship with his father.