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I recieved feed back on a screenplay that said that I used to much exposition. What is it and how do I avoid it?
Exposition is when you have your characters say things in order to give information to the audience.
A really blatent example might be something like:
SALLY Hi, Rick my darling husband of 23 years. I hope that you didn't forget that our daughter Megan will be cooking us a special dinner tonight.
RICK Me, forget? You've go to admit I've been the perfect husband since we moved to Seattle three years ago to start my new business Comfest.
Sometimes we can't get around exposition, but the rule of thumb is to cloak it in conflict.
You need to read Robert McKee's STORY, available at the Writers Store, amazon, and book stores.
Thanks Heather. I think I got. Boy do I have to do alot of re-writing.
I found this in an interview here on moviebytes with Gordy Hoffman. Thought it was a another good explanation of exposition. I included the link at the end.
Forced exposition. This is when a brother tells a sister on page two that he will be attending a school which dad wouldn't pay for because he bought a farm that the whole family will be moving to tomorrow because he found that the city was a really bad place to live in after mom was really scared because of that mugging thing that happened after they came back from the sister's graduation from high school. When characters engage in an unbelievable conversation about matters in which they would be familiar with, or when they proclaim something completely out of nowhere simply to inform the audience of key facts crucial to their understanding of the movie, you have a problem. This awkward exposition will not be seen as genuine human behavior and will detach your audience from the emotional current of your story. Exposition is necessary and difficult to execute. Be careful how you offer information crucial to your story at the start of your screenplay. This is a common problem in early drafts. Exposition needs to be seamless and graceful.
Hey Heather. This is a little off topic, but just wanted to add to what you were saying. The following is a link to Gordy Hoffman's website, with some great advice on screenwriting.
I particularly like "The Rogue Knight of Cinema" in regards to entering screenplay contests. Worth a look.
Good luck on the re-write, Gary.
By the way, Terry is so right about checking out Robert McKee's "STORY". I recommend you get a copy of it.
It's a dicey issue because often some exposition is needed or the audience will be left too much in the dark, or a character's journey will fail to intrigue or interest the audience because they don't know important backstory elements: "Gee, why is so angry? Why is he killing all those guys? How did he get to be like that?"
The trick is to imply it as much as possible through the action and dialogue of the active, ongoing story itself rather than spell it out in a monologue or conversation discussing the past.
However, where it's unavoidably necessary to impart some information in this manner, it should be kept short, sweet and only include what is absolutely vital. If one character asks another where she was brought up:
Instead of: "In an institution where I was starved, abused, degraded, denied an education and made to feel like I was less than human."
Try: "In a shitty little place".
Exposition is usually wordy and uninteresting.
It's not always dialogue. It can be your narrative paragraphs/descriptions as well.
When characters speak--"exposition" is the opposite of "above-the-nose dialogue."
Above-the-Nose Dialogue is saying it, usually, in less words but always in a more interesting way.
When asked about a man's business, instead of the Accountant or whomever going into a long description and "on-the-nose"--the beancounter would say something short and witty like "Think Chernobyl" (as in "A Perfect Murder").
Sometimes, the "above-the-nose dialogue" can be with action. Like Russell Crowe's character in "Mystery, Alaska" saying "I love you" without actually saying the words, "I love you." What does he do? He blacks out all the words in an Ann Landers' column. Well, not all. "Not the important ones."
I saw a great example of good exposition last night when I watched "Silverado" on DVD. The scene when Scott Glen's character, Emmet, comes up on Kevin Kline's charter, Paden, who is laying on his back in the desert where he has been left for dead by the bad guys. Later, at the campfire, we hear their conversation and Paden tells the story of how he got bushwacked and how he misses that bay (horse), when then is a preview of how he spots the horse a little later in a town and shoots the man in order to retrieve his horse. Gives the audience a chance to understand why he buys the gun to shoot the man who stole his horse. It actually eliminates the need for bad dialog like "Look! That's my horse and the varmit who stole him". The preceeding exposition let's the audience in on Paden's reasons for going after the good guys and later his hat.
Not all exposition is bad.
One of my FAVORITE scenes--which I've probably noted here a zillion times--is near the beginning of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
The Gambler asks The Kid if he's fast and how does The Kid answer? WITH ACTION. Shoots the Gambler's holster off and onto the floor, then shoots it across the floor, then shoots the gun out of the holster. I THINK that's how it went.
I'm sorry to say THAT's one of the things I don't like about the last MATRIX movie. So many on-the-nose answers like "Yes," "No." HELLO!
Which is why I RARELY watch CSI: MIAMI. The original is sooooooooo good. But the other two--the dialogue is soooooooo predictable, one ALWAYS knows what's going to come out of the characters' mouths. And I don't mean a dead lizard.
I recommend McKee's book as well, it was very useful to me!
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