5 Techniques for Revealing Exposition

Dreaded exposition - the necessary but boring information every screenwriter fears will put an audience into a deep sleep. Most screenwriters agree the best way to present exposition is visually, but when that’s not possible and you’re forced to resort to expository dialogue it can be a challenge. Here are five techniques to help you subtly reveal exposition through dialogue:

    Technique 1: Present it in small portions
    Don’t overwhelm the reader with too much information at once, break up the exposition into several scenes or among more than one character.

    Technique 2: Imply the information
    Instead of presenting the information directly, imply it. Implied information engages the reader – actively involving him in the story as he tries to figure out the information. For example: In the film Escape From Alcatraz, when Clint Eastwood's chsracter is asked, "What kind of childhood did you have?", he replies, "Short". That is implied exposition.

    Technique 3: Surround it with emotion
    Camouflage the exposition with emotion. When the audience is emotionally impacted by a scene, they will not notice the exposition. It can be any emotion: shock, fear, curiosity, anxiety, etc.

    Technique 4: Surround it with conflict or action
    Distract the audience with conflict or action. In the Terminator, James Cameron presents a 10-minute scene full of nothing but exposition. Ten minutes of exposition! But the audience never notices. While Reese is explaining to Sarah - and the audience - all the pertinent background information (where he’s from, why he’s there, what the future holds, what the Terminator is), the two are constantly surrounded by conflict and action (fleeing the police and engaging in a battle with the Terminator.)

    Technique 5: Feed it to a hungry audience
    Wait to reveal information until the audience is begging to know it. Set up the desire for the reader to know the information by withholding it for as long as possible. In Chinatown, writer Robert Towne carefully builds anticipation. When Evelyn Mulwray’s secret in finally revealed, the audience is eager to hear the information. Callie Khouri achieves the same effect with the build-up and presentation of Louise’s secret in Thelma and Louise.

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