Necessary Exposition?

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  • Necessary Exposition?

    I'm looking for some recommendations on how sometimes there must be an expository scene to fill the audience in on an important part of the story, and how to handle it. For example, I have a prophetic legend in my story that the protag needs to learn about, since he is mistaken as a savior-type.

    Currently it's done in an exchange between the protag and a sage-like character who knows of the prophecy because his life has been directly affected by it.

    I understand and preach the show, don't tell mantra, but I feel in this instance that it would slow down the story a lot to SHOW everything.

    The Indy/Army guys in the lecture hall scene comes to mind in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's ALL EXPOSITION, but it gives the audience a chance to catch up after the initial action. I feel my scene comes right at a time when the audience needs to 'catch up' in between heavier action scenes. Indy basically "teaches" the army guys about the ark, but in effect, he's teaching us. (and himself about what's to come).

    Just wanted some thoughts on ways to do a little more SHOWING in telling a legend to the protag... anyone?

  • #2
    That's the way to do it. The RAIDERS example is exactly right. Give the characters a motivation to reveal the information in the scene. You don't need to show what they are talking about. But you should be able to show why the information is important to the characters (Indy is an archeologist and would love to find the Ark; the Army guys don't want Hitler to get it and need Indy to get it first). Show the characters' reactions to the information, their attitudes toward it, toward the thing or person or people that they are talking about. Show how it is going to push them forward in the story.

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    • #3
      If you feel the scene is too static, give the characters some kind of activity. They could be wandering through a marketplace, building something, making dinner, climbing a mountain -- whatever you can think of. It doesn't have to relate directly to what is being told but it will add energy to the scene and keep it from being two talking heads.

      You can also go the complete opposite way if it's something very important and have your protag sit rivetted while the old sage tells his story. Just make sure it's a rivetting story.

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      • #4

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        • #5
          Re: How's this?

          klepto -

          i think it's important to note something about the raiders of the lost ark scene you mentioned... we are introduced to indy as a swashbuckling hero in a unbelievable situation. Then we see him as a bookworm professor. I think that scene is exposition, but it has that nice 180 switch in the character which helps it along~
          theturnaround

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          • #6
            RE

            One of my favorite uses of expository flashback, is in the film Red Violin.

            I won't spoil the surprise, but watch for the scene when Samuel L. Jackson is reading a document which reveals why the Red Violin is so special...

            I think it is much more effective than if he had just read it aloud.

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            • #7
              Re: RE

              Okey-dokey. Lemme see.

              Everyone's advice has been good so far.

              But, even though, over all, it might be faster to have the story told than shown, there are always certain elements that would be clarified by action, by showing, so for those, you can flashback into the story, WHILE IT'S BEING TOLD, so that the scene doesn't feel static.

              This won't work for any script, but it might be applicable for yours. I just don't know, really.

              Also, Gore's suggestion of checking out RED VIOLIN ... yeah. The example about which he's talking is applicable, and the film is beautiful.

              --RDJ

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              • #8
                exposition

                The Raiders example is good exposition. Jaws uses good exposition, especially when the expert is explaining they have the wrong shark. Aliens has good exposition, especially when the characters are figuring out how to hold off the aliens and send for help. One thing all those examples share is tension. That is one serious way to get away with exposition, if it's a fight, not just a lecture, it will often fly.

                The most brilliant exposition probably on film though is Princess Bride. "Look, the Cliffs of Insanity!" (That still cracks me up.) You do not get told what the Cliffs of Insanity are. Or what their history is. Just the way they are introduced, their name, and one look is enough. And then they climb them. It is great and almost the whole film is written like that.

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                • #9
                  Re: RE

                  TERMINATOR handles it well when Reese explains to Sara while being chased by the Terminator, also in the drainage tunnel.

                  With your story (what you have posted), you could have the Old Man search for an ancient book after he notices Wolfram's mark. Lothair can read some of the passage while the Old Man searches for what Wolfram will need for his journey.

                  This would set up action and anticipation, especially if Lothair sees a picture of some horrible beast in the book and doesn't mention it to Wolfram (I only use that as an example, Lothair may not be that kind of character). Or, the Old Man can start handing weapons to Wolfram, with a harried explanation that can be expounded upon later... as the journey.

                  Hope that makes sense. Just another option! Best of luck with the writing.

                  Doug

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