Exposition: Five Rules

By Michael Schilf · January 22, 2010

Exposition is necessary as an aid to the understanding of the facts from which the story action departs. It is not a part of the dramatic story but simply an explanation to the audience

"One of the tricks is to have the exposition conveyed in a scene of conflict, so that a character is forced to sway things you want the audience to know. As, for example, if he is defending himself against somebody’s attack, his words or defense seem justified even though his words are actually expository words. Something appears to be happening, so the audience believes it is witnessing a scene (which it is), not listening to expository speeches. Humor is another way of getting exposition across."  – Ernest Lehman

When faced with the need for exposition, use these five rules as guide to live by: 

1. Eliminate exposition that isn’t absolutely necessary or that will become clear as the story moves forward. 

2. Deliver exposition in scenes that contain conflict. An argument that starts about one thing often escalates when past issues are brought into the mix.

3. Wait as long as possible before providing exposition, always looking for the moment of maximum dramatic impact to reveal it. 

4. Use brevity. Exposition doesn’t have to be a monologue. Just give us the necessary information, so we can move forward.

5. Use a character (main or supporting) whose job it is to deliver exposition: a judge, teacher, military officer, principle, politician, scientist, etc.