Creative Exposition

In the old days, stage plays used to provide exposition by having a maid and a butler set a table and chat about the main characters, their desires, and their dreams. Then the maid and butler would never be seen again.

Such clumsy exposition simply tells people what they need to know in a dull, uninteresting manner. Ideally, the better way to provide exposition is to make it interesting.

“Star Wars” basically does an information dump at the beginning but it does so in a visually interesting manner. This works for the “Star Wars” franchise but probably won’t work for most other movies.

“The Intern” does an interesting twist. The main character basically tells the audience his past, but he does so in the form of a video interview that’s integral to the story The hero is a retired man who’s interested in getting a job with an e-commerce company. To apply for the position, he needs to record a video of himself explaining why he wants the job. This video mixes in with the exposition and provides a clever way to provide information without boring the audience.

The way most stories provide exposition is by dribbling it out a little at a time by making it a mystery and a problem. In “The Proposal,” the hero is a bossy executive in a book publishing company who’s in danger of losing her job because she’s not an American citizen. That tells us what we need to know and creates conflict so it’s important for the other characters to know this as well. That makes the exposition interesting because of the conflict and problems it creates for the hero.

Whatever you do, don’t just dump information on the audience. Make that information interesting, a mystery, part of a conflict, or part of the story somehow. The sooner you can get your audience past the exposition in a way that holds their interest, the sooner you can get them involved in the rest of your story.

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