SCREENPLAY.today How to Write a Screenplay
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If you want the audience to know that your main-character was abused as a child. There’s really only a few ways you could do it. You can have him (or another character) actually mention that he was abused. Or, you can show it (like in a flashback).

If you just show your protagonist brooding all the time, or depressed, all the audience is going to know is that he’s brooding and depressed. They aren’t going to know why he’s brooding unless you show them or tell them.

And, that’s what exposition is for.

It’s to tell the audience what they need to know.

Now, it’s not easy to do. People usually don’t talk in expository dialogue, so it sounds fake when your characters do it. You have to write exposition very, very carefully. You don’t want it to sound fake. You don’t want it to be too on-the-nose. It has to be extremely informative, yet it still has to sound natural.

Oftentimes, your main-character will be in the dark and wondering ‘what the hell’s going on???’ In these occasions, you can just have someone explain it all to them in layman’s terms. But, most of the time you are not going to have this luxury. You’re going to have to hide the exposition. And, it’s going to have to be hidden inside an enthralling scene that grabs the viewer’s attention and never lets to (just like all your scenes, right?).

The main thing you have to pay attention to when actually writing your screenplay - is that the audience doesn’t know as much about the story as you do! You know everything about the story. You know it backwards and forwards. But, the audience knows nothing. They only know what you tell them. So, unless you tell them, they are completely in the dark.

Exposition is how you tell the audience what’s going on. Expository dialogue and action.

Your first act will probably be the act that’s most filled with exposition. The beginning of a movie is when you have to get an absolutely insane amount of information across to the viewer - in almost no time flat! So, the first act tends to be chock-full of exposition and expository dialogue.

Whatever information you need to get across to the audience, you want to do it:

  1. Without the audience noticing that you are force-feeding them information (do it subtly)
  2. As quickly as possible (in as few lines or pages)
  3. As early as you can (in the script)
  4. Without being too on-the-nose or dry
  5. Try to add the exposition or expository dialogue to a scene that already exists (don’t create a scene solely to give exposition, that would be boring, try to have your scenes to double and triple-duty whenever possible)
  6. Try to make the scene feel natural, as if the characters would normally be talking about this stuff

Try not to have too much exposition as well. Some books or movies become nearly impenetrable when they are just end-to-end exposition and history-telling (Lord of the Rings is pretty much avoided by an entire sex because it’s so dense and has just endless amounts of backstory and exposition).

You need to tell the audience what they need to know - and move on. Don’t focus on it. Don’t draw attention to it. Just get them what they need to know.

Once you’ve got most of your exposition out of the way, you can focus on actually writing your story, your dialogue, your scenes. But, the exposition is still important. As the writer, you know everything about the story, it’s easy to forget that the audience doesn’t know anything at all about these people - until you show them.

Trailers are a good place to look for exposition. The only reason they exist in the first place is to inform the audience. And, they only have two minutes to get an entire screenplay’s worth of information across to the audience. Therefore, they tend to be almost nothing but exposition.

Watch the trailer for Secretary and just look at how much we learn about the characters and the story in just a few short bits of dialogue.

Writing Exposition in your First Act: Trailers and Exposition: Exposition

Screenwriting 101:

PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT

SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

SCREENPLAY TEMPLATE

SAMPLE SCREENPLAY PAGES

BEGINNER SCREENWRITERS

FILM SCHOOLS

SCREENWRITING DEGREES

SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE

HOW LONG SHOULD EACH ACT BE?

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

START WRITING NOW

STORY-STRUCTURE TEMPLATE

THE FIRST TURNING POINT

THE SECOND TURNING POINT

PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER-ARC

GET COVERAGE


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