Writing An Exposition of A Story
If you want to learn the exposition of a story definition, I wrote about it in my Story Structure post, but since it is kind of an important element of a story, I’m going to go deep into the exposition part of a story and to explain what happens during the exposition of a story and give you some exposition of a story examples.
First, rule about scripts expositions
In film school they will always tell you that the exposition of a story is one of the most important elements of a story and that is kind of true (That’s why I’m writing this post), but the real truth is that the middle is important too and also the ending, So before you start worrying about the opening, make sure you got your story right. Start working on the exposition only after you wrote the first draft.
Narrative exposition definition
It’s kind of hard to define exposition of a story because it has lots of elements. Generally speaking, the exposition needs to explain us everything that is needed to understand the plot. The exposition (or set up or the first act) needs to introduce us to the characters and their relationships with each other too, the location and time of the story, the social environment and everything else that in important to the story.
The first act will end when the turning point that changes our main character life will arrive. The great trick in exposition is to deliver the information without the audience noticing that he is being informed. You do that by telling the exposition through cause and effect. This will guarantee that the opening will be believable.
Meeting the characters in the exposition
The exposition is introducing us to the main character. We get to know her in her “normal world” before everything is going bad, but the exposition has another job too – it needs to make us care about the characters and fast. Here are some tips for introducing the characters in the narrative exposition:
- When you introduced new characters, don’t overload with information. See if you can delay the information about them. Sometimes it works even to delay some information about a character to the second act.
- This is the time to create the first impression of your character, and one of the important things you need to create about her is credibility. We have to believe her. If she is believable, we’ll agree to let her walk us through the story. The way to make her more believable is by actions. You should always ask yourself if there is a fast way to show through behavior what the character is telling us. If I want the audience to know my hero is an angry man, does he have to say it or can I show it through his actions.
- Start with an action. An action is always interesting and gets the audience’s attention quick, but you have to remember that everything you do in the exposition is saying something about your movie especially the beginning, so think about that when you write the opening of the film.
- Your characters background. In an exposition of a story, the viewer needs to understand the context of your script, what has happened just before the movie started that put all the characters where they are now. Of course, you don’t need to give all of the characters histories, but you do need to bring the information that is important for the story. The background of the characters is what started to grow the character’s motivation (You can read about Character’s motivation on the post about Developing Characters). This is the hard part because you need to do it quick and in a creative way (try not to simply let the character tell her story). In the opening of the movie Pulp fiction, we can see right from the conversation that the couple is tired from rubbering liquor store and that’s why they want to rubber the dinner.
Setting up the mood
Another goal of an exposition of a story, especially in the opening sequence, is to set the mood and to tell us what kind of movie it is going to be. One way of doing that is through emotions. If it’s a comedy, start telling jokes, if it’s a horror film, start creating a scary atmosphere.
A good exposition example is In the movie Pulp Fiction. In Pulp fiction, we can understand right from the start, that this movie is going to take a funny look at gangsters.
Instead, of showing the gangsters meeting in a dark alley at night and talk about rubbing, they do that right in a dinner in daylight with regular clothes. In the dialogue, the husband is telling the story about a new kind of gangsters that use their phone to pretend it’s a gun. That’s what Tarantino is saying about his film – I’m going to create a new kind of gangsters for the cinema.
The opening of Donnie Darko starts with a dark lighting that tells us it’s going to be a dark film. We see a young boy lying on a mountain that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. The boy starts laughing and we can understand that this is a weird film about a weird boy. The boy rides back home to his normal family.
Starting with the turning point
A lot of movies start right away with the turning point. This is a good trick to get the audience excited right at the start, but it also send the message, that this movie is going to be intense and with lots of action and/or suspense. If you can deliver that kind of promise, you are welcome to do that. This takes me to the next tip about exposition. When you finish writing the first act, try to see what kind of promises it delivers about the film and can you fulfill these promises.
Using dialog as an exposition
Now, The Pulp Fiction opening can be accused of a bad way to start the exposition, because it’s just “talking heads” and nothing happens and when something already happen we cut to the title, but this is all point of the film and Tarantino, being a skillful writer, can pull it off easily. One of the reasons he is pulling it off is the next law about dialogue in act 1: If you are going to use dialogue to deliver information at the exposition, make sure you have something that is powerful to compensate. In Pulp Fiction, it’s the fact that we hear two gangsters talk about expanding their rubbery “business” and they don’t follow any of the genres rules about gangsters in films. Another good lesson you can learn from this opening is that if you decide to introduce us to your characters by making them talk, make sure they have something interesting to talk about and if possible – a conflict.