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Old 03-15-2014, 08:40 AM   #1
Anthony94
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Default Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

I'm trying to have my 'mentor' character explain to the protagonist some of the lore of the film but I'm struggling to explain it without him using obvious exposition.

Just wondering how much exposition is too much? What he's explaining can't really be 'shown' it has to be explained?

I've noticed on the Matrix script Morpheus gives Neo a lot of exposition explaining the matrix to him, it is acceptable using that kind of exposition where the characters explaining things to both the protagonist and the audience?

Thanks.
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Old 03-15-2014, 09:05 AM   #2
madworld
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

It's VERY tricky. I've messed up scripts before by including too much. Thought I learned my lesson and then did it again lol. It's easy to get too fascinated with the mythology of it and then the script suffers.

I think it's why so many writers, too many to count, open their movies with a voice over and a series of shots or a short scene strictly about the mythology. And if you don't, by the time they get to the editing room, they do it.

I'm not a big fan of those openings, but you get why they do them. It's an info dump. Here's the mythology, here's the world. Now let's get to the story.

And I've seen variations on this opening that were really effective too. Looper comes to mind. I loved Looper's opening. First 10 pages, Joe is walking us through it, woven into the scenes. Rian Johnson nailed it.

How much is too much is difficult without actually reading the script, at least the treatment. But I can say, often the best place to start is to distill the mythology down to the simplest, cleanest form. Know what really needs to be included before a character says it.


ETA: I think what made Matrix so well done was the mystery. What is the Matrix? By the time we got to Morpheus, we all wanted to know. We were eager for that part of the movie when it came.

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Old 03-15-2014, 09:33 AM   #3
Jon Jay
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

If you have to have a character delivering exposition, either have a 'new apprentice' type of character who needs things explained. The cop on his first day at the new precinct etc. The Ellen Page character in Inception, who basically spends half the movie wandering around asking questions that explain the world for the rest of us.

Or make it in the exposition-giver's interest to explain stuff. Exposition often creeks because there's zero reason for character A to pass it on to character B. In The Matrix, Morpheus needs Neo to understand The Matrix, otherwise they're all f*cked.

If you have to info-dump, consider making the circumstances tense - put a time limit on the scene - so it makes sense for info to be blurted out fast.

Finally, always underestimate how much exposition the audience needs. Confusion beats boredom every time.
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Old 03-15-2014, 09:49 AM   #4
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

If you can include conflict or humor in the information...
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Old 03-15-2014, 10:01 AM   #5
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

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Originally Posted by Anthony94 View Post
I've noticed on the Matrix script Morpheus gives Neo a lot of exposition explaining the matrix to him, it is acceptable using that kind of exposition where the characters explaining things to both the protagonist and the audience?
The first thing I'd say is, well, how much lore do you need? You might have more than you need. And if you need it, well, good, that help's solve the problem.

Because look at the context in which Morpheus explains the matrix to Neo.

A lot of those scenes play on questions of Neo's belief in what he's seeing and experiencing - and that tension ("will Neo buy it?") helps make the exposition matter. It's not abstract "here, let me explain the rules of the world to you."

Something is at stake. And not just randomly in the scene to create tension. What is at stake is connected with the core of the movie.

If you can't make something at stake with the reveal of the exposition, ask yourself hard questions as to whether or not the exposition is necessary. Because if it's nothing other than a cool backstory that helped inspire your story, maybe it belongs on the cutting room floor. (Lots of times we develop a lot of backstory that doesn't belong in the finished project. Most of "The Silmarillion" was material developed to be part of - and then cut from - the Lord of the Rings.)

As writers we sometimes fall in love with all the little details we imagine for our world. If you read a lot of science fiction or fantasy, this can be worse, because a lot of times those genres just pile it on, in novels. But a film isn't a novel.
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Old 03-15-2014, 06:29 PM   #6
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

If you break down The Matrix, yes...there is a ton of exposition. It's given it chunks between action set pieces though (which feed the exposition), and some of it is cleverly tied together with the whole 'Alice in Wonderland' theme. Never underestimate the power of familiarity when it comes to setting up exposition!

What was done in that movie is hard to repeat- not only did you have Morpheus verbally explain to Neo the rules of the world, but you also have visually compelling exposition- Neo training for the first time comes to mind.

The thing that strikes me about how they got away with all that exposition was that that they tied everything to the construction of the characters- From Neo being new, to Morpheus being god-like, to the Oracle being coy, to Agent Smith's hatred of humans, to Cypher's disillusionment, and to Trinity's love.... every single expository moment served the story or the characters in a manner that worked well. Nothing ever jarred you out of the story, but instead leant itself to immersing you more into the world.

The saying goes, 'show me, don't tell me', but in some cases....well, you have to find a way to do both. Tie it to familiarity, allude to well known established myths/stories if you can, but it still boils down to the 'can you?'.

Can you tell the story, make the characters feel real, and make the reader/viewer forget that they are partaking in a piece of fiction?

The best way to gauge that is to have people read your work and then have them dissect it- not just other writers, but also your target audience.
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Old 03-15-2014, 06:38 PM   #7
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

Take a look at how FROZEN explains Elsa's powers. And the trolls. They only explain the bare minimum of what's needed to move the story forward.
Again, listen to the Scriptnotes session, if you can. They talk about this.
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Old 03-15-2014, 07:42 PM   #8
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronaldinho View Post
The first thing I'd say is, well, how much lore do you need? You might have more than you need. And if you need it, well, good, that help's solve the problem.

Because look at the context in which Morpheus explains the matrix to Neo.

A lot of those scenes play on questions of Neo's belief in what he's seeing and experiencing - and that tension ("will Neo buy it?") helps make the exposition matter. It's not abstract "here, let me explain the rules of the world to you."

Something is at stake. And not just randomly in the scene to create tension. What is at stake is connected with the core of the movie.

If you can't make something at stake with the reveal of the exposition, ask yourself hard questions as to whether or not the exposition is necessary. Because if it's nothing other than a cool backstory that helped inspire your story, maybe it belongs on the cutting room floor. (Lots of times we develop a lot of backstory that doesn't belong in the finished project. Most of "The Silmarillion" was material developed to be part of - and then cut from - the Lord of the Rings.)

As writers we sometimes fall in love with all the little details we imagine for our world. If you read a lot of science fiction or fantasy, this can be worse, because a lot of times those genres just pile it on, in novels. But a film isn't a novel.
So true, and yet, some people who read ask endless questions about said little details. Makes you wonder about their story sense.
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Old 03-15-2014, 08:29 PM   #9
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

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Originally Posted by nativeson View Post
So true, and yet, some people who read ask endless questions about said little details. Makes you wonder about their story sense.
Yeah but the thing is this. Sometimes you (meaning me) write thinking you're addressing the lore, but you're actually eliciting more of those questions.

It's a classic mistake. It's why all the mythology, as fascinating as it is to the writer, needs to be the cleanest version. And you have to be merciless, because if it doesn't serve the story, it's just going to make the readers work and raise more questions.

I watched the director's commentary on Looper. I forget which one. I think it was the one Rian Johnson created to accompany going to the theater. In it, he mentioned having to pull out some of Old Joe's explanation of time travel, and I got the impression it was because it would raise more questions than it would answer.
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Old 03-15-2014, 09:59 PM   #10
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Default Re: Explaining lore without using too much exposition?

Pairing back for clarity can be an issue, sure, it just seems there are certain folks who get sidetracked (-- squirrel!). Maybe it's a subconscious urge to 'develop.' Along that line, this editorial sort of fits the subject at hand... http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp53.The.Rules.html
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