Episode 682 - Exposition!

Apr 8, 2024

Tantz came up with this week's topic: Exposition! It's because she's well on her way into starting her latest comic, Verdant, and working out ways to introduce the story, the world, characters, culture, magic systems, religion etc without doing a massive text dump, which people generally don't like too much. So how do you exposit in a good way?

Topics and Show Notes

One popular way is through a dialogue; characters give overly verbose and entirely unnecessary explanations about how things work during ordinary conversations, telling people things that they would already know from childhood, just so the reader can be informed in a “natural” way, which isn't natural and it actually really terrible, eg: “Hello my friend David Prowse who I have known since high school but have had a big falling out with since you slept with my wife. Could you hand me the energy cell please? Of course you know that all machines now are powered by energy cells which are miniaturised nuclear fusion reactors, so that we have unlimited, cheap power always.”

Another way is to have a character in a classroom, being taught particular concepts like history or politics so they and the reader “learn” together. This can be terrible but it can also be pretty good if you handle it right. Even text dumps can work ok if they're done correctly, but that's rare.

The best way to do exposition is to introduce the audience to only the concepts they need to know for now, in a basic way, with plenty of context in ways that are fully and easily relatable. Like showing a small, slow stakes scene that introduces key concepts and shows the character's reaction to them. If most of the stuff is easily relatable then the audience will focus more on the few isolated weird new things you introduce and they can learn about them from seeing how the characters react to them and how they fit into the context of the world, that way you don't need to explain them. A great example of this is the new comic by Marcorossi, Bunyan Mk7, it's a perfect example of quick, minimal exposition through story.

From here we started talking about how in anime often an entire first season of 13 episodes is devoted to this sort of expository introduction, which I find extremely pleasant because the focus of that kind of storytelling is not “conflict” but instead “progress”, which is something not well understood in modern storytelling anymore. The interest the audience gets from the story isn't that a character wants something or needs to fight to get it or resolve an issue, instead it's the linear consumption of knowledge that builds to the goal of finding out more about something. You specifically don't care about resolving anything, rather the learning is fun for its own sake. “Progress” can also be anything that builds towards a goal. I find people still like to rationalise this as “conflict” but you need to stretch the definition too much that it makes the concept useless and no longer logically understandable.

How do you do exposition? With a text dump? Via dialogue? A classroom? An introductory prologue? Or do you just throw the audience in the deep end and expect them to sink or swim? That said, the more familiar and relatable the story offering is, the less work on the exposition you have to do.

This week Gunwallace has given us a theme inspired by Cafe Strange - A melancholic jazz revere on times past and times yet to come. Off-time percussion, a gently plucked double bass, evocative piano and an electric violin play a tune of loneliness and possibility.

Topics and shownotes


Exposition examples in comics:
Verdant, by Tantz_Aerine - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/Verdant/
Bunyan Mk7, by marcorossi - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/Bunyan_Mk7

Featured comic:
Prisoner of Paint - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/news/2024/apr/02/featured-comic-prisoner-of-paint/

Featured music:
Cafe Strange - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/Cafe_Strange/ - by Synwells, rated T.

Special thanks to:
Gunwallace - http://www.virtuallycomics.com
Ozoneocean - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/ozoneocean
Kawaiidaigakusei - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/kawaiidaigakusei
Tantz Aerine - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/Tantz_Aerine/
Banes - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/Banes/

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