Script Hacks – Exposition Dos and Don’ts

There are no rules for writing. There are only tools and techniques. The key is to find what works for you. 

These are tools and techniques that help me. My hope is they’ll help you too.

SCRIPT HACKS – EXPOSITION DOS AND DON’TS

Effectively communicating exposition is crucial to setting up the world and characters of your screenplay.

What is Exposition? 

Exposition is the information the writer gives to the audience either visually or verbally. 

All of the characters in your story have a history. Details about their pasts that are important to understanding their personality and present lives. 

Exposition is used to provide the audience with necessary details and information about character and world events that happened before your story began. 

Relevant backstory events that continue to impact the present in some significant, meaningful way. Details about characters, relationships, setting, and situation. 

When should you use exposition? 

Don’t tell the audience something before they desire to know it. Timing is everything.  

Create questions that demand answers. Once the audience is hungry for answers, that’s when you provide the exposition. 

Remember the first time you saw the DeLorean in Back To The Future, weren’t you excited and desperate to hear how the time machine worked? 

How should you present exposition? 

Only present the audience with the minimum details needed in order to understand your characters and participate in the story. Use it or lose it. Always.

Exposition should be invisible, subtle, slipped in quickly and unobtrusively. It should appear to belong in the moment, not simply for the sake of conveying information.

Find ways to bury the exposition into comedic or dramatic situations. If you can find ways to make the “info dump” entertaining, the audience will accept it. 

Film is a visual medium. You don’t have the luxury of getting inside your character’s heads like you would with a novel. You have to make it visual. Show the audience instead of telling them. 

In The Matrix, Morpheus takes Neo on a guided tour of “The Matrix” and contrasts that with a visual display of “The Real World”. 

In Inception, Cobb tells the rules of how the dream-world works and Paris literally unfolds upon itself to visually exemplify those rules. 

How shouldn’t you present exposition?

Here is a list of common forms of exposition you should avoid. I call them…

THE EXPOSITION DIRTY DOZEN 

1) Too much telling, not enough showing. 

2) Out of the blue (is bad to do).

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3) Avoid “As you know” expo. 

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4) Out of place (is out of line).

When exposition is introduced that doesn’t belong in the current situation, it will stand out. Try to make it organic and motivated to the situation. 

5) Premature exposition can confuse.

Often exposition is difficult to understand because the viewer hasn’t met the people yet who are being discussed. The audience has no frame of visual reference or mental picture.  

6) Don’t know? DON’T CARE! 

Exposition can be un-involving when we don’t yet know about the characters or the story. Once we’re hooked or engaged, THEN we’ll welcome exposition. 

7) Lack of imagination leads to tedium.

If it’s presented in a tedious and unimaginative manner, exposition will bore the audience. Such as two people talking without visual accompaniment. 

8) Too much too quick… WON’T STICK. 

Don’t give so much exposition all at once, otherwise it will be difficult to absorb. We just won’t remember most of it. Avoid “info dumps” and “expo overloads”. 

9) More than we need to know. 

Even when it’s spread out, sometimes there’s just too much exposition overall. Don’t give the audience more info than they need. Keep it to a minimum. 

10) No TIME OUTS. 

Characters shouldn’t STOP what they’re doing while exposition is being delivered. Avoid delivery of exposition that slows down the story to an unacceptable degree. 

11) Don’t FRONT LOAD the exposition. 

Not ALL the exposition needs to occur at once. Only include what occurs naturally. Only what needs to be provided at the particular moment. SPREAD IT OUT. 

12) No unfilmable expo.

Only include exposition that can be seen or heard on screen. Don’t hide exposition that wouldn’t show up on screen by placing it in narrative or in character descriptions. 

EXPOSITION RECAP

-Timing is everything.

-Create questions that demand answers.

-Bury the answers with comedy and drama.

-Make the answers visual and verbal.

-Keep the details to a minimum.

-Keep it fast and fun. 

-Avoid the Dirty Dozen.

Oh, and if you’re looking for exhaustive feedback on your screenplay, I can help. 

www.scriptbutcher.com/services

Script Hacks For Scene Construction

There are no rules for writing. There are only tools and techniques. The key is to find what works for you. 

These are tools and techniques that help me. My hope is they’ll help you too.

SCRIPT HACKS FOR SCENE CONSTRUCTION

Questions to ask when creating a scene:

WHAT ARE YOUR CHARACTERS’ AGENDAS?

What are your characters’ individual agendas in this scene?

How can you make achieving these goals visual?

How can you make the audience understand what these goals are so they can root FOR or AGAINST your characters achieving them?

Figure out your characters’ individual agendas in a scene and the rest falls into place.

These agendas can be as simple as: “Avoid eye contact from any human.”

Or they can be as plot driven and complex as: “Retrieve a specific object of importance”.

Doesn’t matter what the goal is, as long as every character in that scene has a purpose.

Understanding your character’s agenda clarifies WHY a scene needs to exist. A clear understanding of why a scene exists informs all creative decisions such as:

What are the best contrasted elements you could add to maximize conflict in the scene?

What is the best situation to play out the scene given these chosen creative elements?

Where is best location/set piece to have the scene occur given the agenda and situation?

WHAT OBSTACLES CAN YOU FORCE THEM TO OVERCOME?

A character’s victory in a scene is only as strong as the obstacles you force them to overcome.

What obstacles can you throw at your characters to make it as hard as humanly possible for them to achieve their agendas/goals?

These obstacles can come in infinite forms both internally (self-sabotage/friendly) and externally (outside forces/strangers/foes). It can be anyone or anything that gets in the way of the character’s agenda.

What are the most creative actions your characters could take to overcome these obstacles and achieve their goals given these chosen elements?

RECAP

-Character Agendas?

-Situation?

-Contrasts for Maximum Conflict?

-Location/Set Piece?

-Internal and External Obstacles?

-Creative Actions to Overcome these Obstacles?

Scene construction can be an arduous task. If you take the time to answer these questions when crafting your scene, the possibilities for making that scene entertaining are endless.

www.scriptbutcher.com/services

 

 

 

National Screenwriters Day: Script Butcher Client Success Stories 

Happy National Screenwriters Day! Today we celebrate the unsung heroes of cinema, SCREENWRITERS. After all, before it goes on the screen, it starts on the page.

I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the 2017 successes of some of my hardest working screenwriting clients.

Suzan Battah – Basatai

Two worlds under threat by a blood curse, born in one to cause uncertainty and chaos for all. Humanity will fall if the curse is fulfilled. All BaSatai are on edge. No one will survive a blood curse to destroy us all.  www.basatai.com

“Basatai” was chosen as an Official Selection of the 2018 Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival. It has also won numerous awards in past years.

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Suzan on IMDb – imdb.me/suzanbattah

Suzan’s Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/SassySuzanB/

Suzan’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/SassySuzanB

James Helsing – Modus Operandi 

Jack the Ripper is in the headlines again as a troubled gay San Francisco homicide inspector and an unorthodox Miss Marple hunt a madman who is recreating his murders.

The “Modus Operandi” logline placed in the Top 100 in the Thriller/Suspense Festival in Toronto. The feature script placed as one of the best scripts to read in 2017. This script also garnered James multiple writing assignments.

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James on IMDb – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1545070/

James’ Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/james.helsing.7

James’ Twitter – https://twitter.com/JamesHelsing

Eric Winkler – Sober & Inhumane

SOBER – Can Kacey Cohen, a quirky and kindhearted high school guidance counselor, survive her severe alcoholism and find happiness?

“Sober” was a Semifinalist in the 2017 BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

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INHUMANE – A sadistic, small-town sheriff and his cronies brutalize a young woman and leave her for dead in the woods. Bitten by a werewolf and bestowed with supernatural abilities, can she retain her humanity as she exacts revenge?

“Inhumane” is currently in pre-production as Eric’s first produced feature film. The team recently completed a trailer for prospective investors.

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Eric on IMDb – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm9363829/

Eric’s Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ericwinkler

Inhumane’s Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/InhumaneFilm/

Inhumane’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/InhumaneFilm

Herschel Medlin and Dale Baker – Turn The Tables

Two young DJ’s, determined to leave a musical legacy behind in their home town before they join the Marines, compete for their love interests, their honor, and the title of 1991 world DJ champions. The only thing in their way is a rival DJ gang known as “The Crew”, that have some information on them that could derail their futures for good.

“Turn The Tables” won the Diamond Award for Best Script at the 2017 Hollywood Film Competition.

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“Turn The Tables” also won second place for Best Feature Script at the 2017 NYC Indie Film Awards.

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Herschel on IMDb – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm9489700/

Dale on IMDb – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm9489701/

Herchel’s Facebook –  https://www.facebook.com/herschel.medlin

David Crispino – Taft Sturgeon 

Taft Sturgeon follows the adventures of an Uncle Buck-esque intergalactic social worker who saves the galaxy one child at a time.

Taft Sturgeon was printed as a 6-part serial debuting in the pages of Image Comics Shutter.

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David also successfully Kickstarted the comic book project this year as a 35 page, single issue story.

While not a screenwriter, I still wanted to celebrate David’s accomplishments on a day where writers are meant to be praised.

David on Comixology – https://www.comixology.com/David-Steven-Crispino/comics-creator/32085

David’s Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/davidcrispinocomics/

David’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/DCrispino

 

As a script consultant, nothing brings me more joy than watching writers work hard to improve their scripts and hone their craft. These clients have put in the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to succeed in writing full proof scripts that slice through the competition.

The last few months of the year I started working with a crop of new talented clients. Given the work ethic they’ve displayed, I have no doubt I’ll be sharing their success stories as well.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to help writers on a daily basis. I look forward to working with new screenwriting clients in the coming year.

www.scriptbutcher.com/services