Introduce Exposition as a Weapon or Path to Attack or Help the Hero

Novices often do information dumps where a character vomits out information solely for the audience to understand the story. This often creates phony dialogue like this:

BOB: Be careful, Jane. Remember the last time you slipped on a rock, you hit your head and had to drop out of school so you could recover and your father got upset with you for not staying in school.

JANE: Don’t worry. My father, who is in a nursing home and losing his memory, won’t have to know we went hiking this weekend to get away and save our marriage after 15 years.

When characters vomit out information solely for the audience to understand, it creates a boring, unrealistic scene. A far better way to introduce exposition into a scene is to use it to attack a character.

In “The Godfather Part II,” Michael is trying to comfort his wife, Kay, after she has lost their baby. Michael thinks Kay had a miscarriage, but then he’s shocked and angered when Key says she had an abortion because she didn’t want to raise a kid to have a father like Michael. That revelation turns Michael’s life around, which is a great example of using exposition to attack a character.

In “Soul,” the hero, Joe Gardner, dies and winds up in the afterlife. In his desperation to get back to his life on Earth, he’s mistaken for a mentor who guides souls before they depart for Earth. This is when Joe learns he actually has a chance to get back to Earth by helping a soul, named 22, start a life on Earth.

This exposition doesn’t attack Joe so much as it provides a path to his goal, and that immediately grabs our attention. Whenever you introduce exposition, make it either help or hinder the hero. Either way the exposition will play an integral part of the story rather than just be another information dump to help tell the story.

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