This tutorial on writing exposition is our homage to one of Joey’s favorite Kurt Russells: Snake Plissken, from the 1981 movie Escape From New York by John Carpenter.
Written by VGHS screen writer and RJFS professor Will Campos (@ShotBotWill), this tutorial-hidden-in-a-scene touches on the many different ways you can sneak exposition into your screenplay without taking the audience out of the story.
So what exactly is exposition?
Basically, exposition is the way you convey relevant information about your story, within your story, to your audience. All those little details about your world that an audience needs to understand in order to understand your story? (i.e., “Our hero hasn’t spoken to his sister in 20 years,” “This super villain has a nuke that will wipe out the eastern seaboard,” “The Force is an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”) Exposition is how you get those details across.
Sounds super dry and boring, huh? You’re not wrong! Exposition tends to be a dry, tedious affair. People go to the movies to be entertained, thrilled and enthralled by a gripping, compelling narrative. They don’t go to the movies to learn about “important background information.”
So when the momentum of your story grinds to a halt so the main character can attend a mission briefing, or catch a conveniently timed news story about the escaped lunatic from the insane asylum, their eyes glaze over and go straight to their phones (where they are probably tweeting about how boring your movie is.)
Yet, as a writer, you will constantly find yourself in situations where you need to stop and explain what the hell is going on so that people can understand the drama of your story going forward.
Thus, good exposition gives the audience all the information they need to enjoy your story, in a way that doesn’t take them out of the story. Easier said than done! Fortunately, as writers, we have some tricks in our toolbox to help us get the job done.
To keep reading Will’s lesson plan, download the study guide here!
Special shout out to our composer, Maxton Waller.
Extra Credit: Post your own exposition scenes in the forum and get feedback!