Overcoming Exposition

by Glenn Benest “Secret of Screenwriting”

Hello, everyone.  We’ve been communicating recently about the art of the rewrite and here is the next big stumbling block that might not have been solved during your first or second draft.

That is the problem of exposition.  Exposition is basically the backstory of your film.  In “Hugo,” this problem was never dealt with adequately.

Late in the story, we get the entire backstory of why Georges is so fascinated by the Automaton and we learn how he created his famous movie – “Rocket to the Moon.”  At this point of the movie, the forward momentum of the film comes to a crashing halt. Our main character, Hugo, is no longer active, he just observes, he’s a bystander and that should never happen.

Once you’ve grabbed your audience, you never want to let them go.  We can’t just destroy the forward momentum of the story by someone all of a sudden going:  “Okay, everyone, this is what happened five years ago.”  And then we get some long exposition about the past.

This is probably the most challenging issue screenwriters have to face.  In a novel, we can go into backstory easily and if we make it interesting enough, the reader is happy to go on this side track with us, enjoying the diversion.

Not in a film.  It stops the forward momentum of your story and all of a sudden we realize there’s nothing driving the story forward.  The eyes of your audience will glaze over and suddenly everyone wants to go get popcorn or take a bathroom break.

So how do we overcome this obstacle?

We can open the film with the backstory.  Then we’re not stopping the film by trying to get this information out.

Next way to overcome this problem is to give the backstory during conflict.  While something very dramatic is happening, we have the characters sneak in vital information.  This can happen during a fight, while sneaking up on the castle to lay siege to it, or when there’s a gun battle or car chase.  You get the idea.

The third way you can get in exposition is by sprinkling it in in small increments as the story progresses.  But not all at once.  You find appropriate scenes to tell us a little at a time.

Talented and professional screenwriters know these tricks so well you don’t even realize you’re getting exposition – it’s done so cleverly.

The next time you watch a really good movie or study a screenplay pay attention to when exposition is being given.  You might be surprised how subtle this can be and how you didn’t even realize on a conscious level you were learning stuff that is essential to the story.

Let’s work on being masters of exposition when we do our subsequent rewrites.

Until then – KEEP WRITING!

Read the full article at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/secretsofscreenwriting/doc/10150944953899857/

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1 Comment

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  1. Profile photo of normanwilliam
    October 30, 2012, 2:47 am

    Rewriting. Knowing what’s working and what must go!

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