Avoiding exposition in dialogue (tip 38) Reply

D.D. Johnston on how to avoid writing expository dialogue.


Oh, hello there. I was just reading the Secret Baby Room by D.D. Johnston, a page turning mystery suspense thriller which I am enjoying very much. Oh, look, it’s priced at a very reasonable £8.99. Available from all good bookstores. What a fine purchase that would be!

Yes, today’s topic is exposition in dialogue. Exposition in dialogue is when a character talks to inform the reader or the viewer rather than the person to whom they’re supposedly talking.

A good example can be found in almost every James Bond film. At some point, the villain will tell bond the intimate details of his evil plan.

[Film clip]

Of course, there’s no rational reason to tell your nemesis the details of your criminal conspiracy and the plans of your international terrorist organisation, but this is information that the viewer needs to know.

Exposition can be hard to avoid in screenwriting because all the information that can’t be conveyed visually has to be told through dialogue or voiceover. But in prose, there really isn’t any excuse.

Take this example from a bad romance novel:

“Look, I know I should have invited you to my party!” he yelled. “But you hate my parties. You refused to move in with me. You never want to do anything fun anymore. Ever since you bought that old movie house, you are as outdated as the classic movies you show there. And when it comes to sex . . . let’s not even go there. You never want to try anything new.”
“Maybe because I’m tired after running the classic movie theatre all day.”

Most couples don’t need to tell each other where they work. So if you need to tell the reader, the best way to do it is through narration. For instance:

His wife, Blofelda, worked in a movie theatre, where she screened classic films to small audiences and barely made enough to pay the popcorn seller. Most nights she came home late and tired and this was, in his opinion, the reason why they’d more or less ceased having sex.

Exposition in dialogue is often the result of a show, don’t tell obsession, and if you click here you can find a simple antidote.

Thanks for watching, and good luck with your writing.

The thumbnail for this video uses a photograph by Daniel. It’s covered by a Creative Commons license and you can find more of his work here: http://thedcoy.blogspot.co.uk/

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