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A Short Expedition into Sweet Exposition

Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 1, 2022

I know we've talked about exposition before, but a couple examples popped into my head recently…even though the examples are not recent.

When I was a youngster I loved the Hulk character. Today I remembered a specific issue of that comic, from way back, where the Hulk was in one of his nonverbal stages of life, and wandering around the interdimensional hub called The Crossroads. As this page tells us, he was banished there because he with his power and mindlessness, Hulk was a threat to all life on Earth.

The exposition on this page is long and involved all through the comic, and deals with what's happening with all the wacky dimension travel, and more importantly, what's going on inside the Hulk's mind, as the Banner personality begins to come back.

These comics had a LOT of captions/narration. When a character is alone, you need to either show their thoughts, or use narration of some kind. With the Hulk non verbal, narration was needed to explain everything. I think it's pretty essential to tell this story in a compact way - and I remember being enthralled by it when I read it as a kid. It does make me laugh a bit at how much text is in those comics though. There are other comics that are overwritten, with explanations that might be unnecessary.

What makes me laugh more is some of the ham-fisted dialogue that happens in movies or series to move the plot along and explain what's going on.

Case in point is a movie I love, Freddy Vs Jason. Freddy opens the movie with expository dialogue - it's excellent, though: short and to the point and interesting and sets the stage.
Freddy is using Jason to scare local teens and, through that fear, return Freddy to his full murderous power.
There's a moment when he says…

PIC “I'll let Jason have some funnn!”

It's funny to me because it's so on-the-nose…and who is Freddy talking to?
To be clear, I laugh with great love for this movie, and I think this was the way to do it for the most part.

Later, when the kids figure out the nature of Freddy and his plan, it's necessary to keep things moving, but it's downright unbelievable that these kids could figure out the nature of these supernatural beings and their motivations, and how to defeat them.

But it had to happen - they had to turn the monsters against each other…it's in the title, for Pete's sake!

I think my favorite exposition-delivery team, and story, is the Back to the Future series. Marty is our POV character, and Doc explains everything that's going on and how time will work in the movie. The chemistry between these actors and Christopher Lloyd's ability to deliver these long monologues in such a fun, entertaining way, so fast but easy to follow, is an extra layer of enjoyment for me with those movies.

I love when Doc actually uses a chalkboard to quickly explain alternate timelines to Marty, and to a 1980's audience, years before Multiverses were mainstream. In fact, that alternate-timeline explanation might be my favorite scene in the BTTF series, and my favorite exposition scene of all time. it's tense, exciting and suspenseful, and written and executed to perfection.

What kind of dork has a favorite exposition scene of all time???

Here's that scene:

Anyway, these were my thoughts today

How do you handle exposition? I try to keep mine tight, and short, and to a minimum required to understand what's happening (and set the stage for future payoffs). It's an effort to whittle it down and make it right, and I don't always succeed, to say the least!

See you next time!


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Corruption at 9:16PM, Dec. 1, 2022

There are some good ways to handle exposition, like showing someone learning something, or having someone recount something so you know it is a story. The "As you know Bob" method is not that good. One method that is used on TV to show characters inner thoughts is when their facial expressions change when they are not facing anyone in the room. For example, a guy causing problems by destroying someone's life may act caring and concerned for them, but when they go away to get get some drinks for them, he has a smug look on his face that vanishes when he returns. Sometimes you might have a crazy person come in to spout off a theory about how things are (if it fits their character) and other people have to explain why they are wrong (and it latter turns out they were at least partly right for extra fun).

Ironscarf at 4:22PM, Dec. 1, 2022

EssayBee - most would've had to take the reduced rate too, but Steranko is a master of all the martial arts. Not a man you'd want to get into a fight with, according to his autobiography! On a side note I read Stan Lee wanted to pay Gil Kane a lower rate because he only drew the lines and didn't do the shadows! Another artist had to talk Stan out of that.

EssayBee at 12:26PM, Dec. 1, 2022

Ironscarf--I have a collection of old Silver Surfer comics written by Stan Lee, and it feels like it's 80% exposition in thought bubbles. I think some of that may have been a matter of money. I think it was Jim Steranko who said he did a comic where the prologue was purely visual, and the publisher at first said they'd pay him for the art but not for writing, since there was not text. Steranko had to fight (and literally threatened to physically fight) in his explanation that the images tell the story, so it counts as writing.

EssayBee at 12:20PM, Dec. 1, 2022

Your comment about "who is Freddy talking to?" is something that always bugged me about a lot of first-person comic narrations. Green Lantern in particular annoyed me because he often explained in exposition, "My name is Hal Jordan, Green Lantern of..." It's one thing to have a character's inner thoughts, but when they have to identify themselves, it begs the question of "Who are you talking to?" On the plus side, this provided the main inspiration for Fusion's inner dialogue being a direct conversation with the readers. If you're gonna use such a device, I figured it'd be cool to use it as a means of more directly involving the readers and making them feel more like a participant in Fusion's life.

RobertRVeith at 10:21AM, Dec. 1, 2022

Looking at that page from The Hulk (as someone who has read decades of Hulk), I can't help but think which is more ham fisted? A page of exposition or the way that the verbal Hulk has to explain to everyone in great detail what is motivating him any any given time. My least favorite use of exposition has to be that moment in every anime I've watched where one character explains to another the weird rules peculiar to that particular anime universe. It always begins like, "Oh, how could you not know how the world works?" said to a character who really *should* understand how the world works. The best use of exposition comes when you have a character who really wouldn't know something, but needs to, paired with a character who knows about the subject. The Marty/Doc example is perfect. The reader needs answers as much as Marty does.

Ironscarf at 9:09AM, Dec. 1, 2022

Old comics (really old ones) tended to tell the story in captions in addition to word balloons and pictures, which seemed bizarre to me when I was reading pages like the one above as a kid. Now that page strikes me as stuffed with far too many 'remnants of verbal agility' too. The balance of words and pictures has changed quite a bit over time and I find myself gravitating towards short and to the point. Oddly I read that one of the big platforms, possibly Webtoon, like you to start a story with at least three pages of exposition, explaining who the characters are and introducing their world. They are obviously not fans of storytelling.

bravo1102 at 5:02AM, Dec. 1, 2022

I just did a scene where exposition happened in a bar between comrades who had served together. It was a series of flashbacks that I hope didn't overwhelm the story. I agree that the best exposition is casual as it's pertinent. People don't go around explaining things unless it's like Marty and Doc Brown and even then that's because the time machine is a vital part of the plot so knowing how it works is important but if it was just incidental no detailed explanation be necessary. Look at how the time machine is handled in the various version of H.G. Wells' book. Rod Taylor never explains the mechanics to anyone. They're shown instead and much is left unexplained because the audience just doesn't need to know. Some things just never come up, like I am intentionally vague with the space propulsion systems in all my stories. It'd be like your mechanic going over how an internal combustion engine worked every time you brought the car in for an oil change.

hushicho at 3:34AM, Dec. 1, 2022

Conspicuous exposition is usually a bad idea. Freddy vs Jason was a bunch of lines taken from better, earlier movies in the series, so it probably wouldn't have made much sense without the constant exposition. It didn't even make sense with it. Usually I find that exposition is best done incidentally. If you can't accomplish it simply and with a somewhat natural feel, it's probably going to disrupt the story more than it adds. Sometimes this means that readers don't get all the details, but they don't always need to. Look at Moebius's Arzach for compelling vignettes that don't really indulge in exposition but stand well on their own.

bravo1102 at 12:22AM, Dec. 1, 2022

There are always readers who just wander in off the street asking questions and everything has to be explained all over again.

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