Exposition, or the art of divulging information through the written word, is the backbone for every literary medium. Short stories, novels, comic books and screenplays rely on exposition to set story tone while revealing the unique voice of the writer. No matter its importance, writers have the responsibility of identifying the best mode of exposition for the type of literary art they’re creating. In the realm of screenwriting, dialogue exposition is among the hardest to master. While this guide is brief, its key points are the foundation for every technique and method pertaining to script dialogue exposition.
Revealing inner feelings, current emotions and future objectives are partially done through dialogue exposition. While visual elements contribute, dialogue is the means of connecting audience to character.
Personality, Tone and Style
The hardest part of dialogue writing, in my professional opinion, is writing character reactions within the parameters of their unique personality, tone and style. Each character, just like every person, has an identifiable mode of speaking, reacting and processing information. To complicate matters more, characters must also possess the internal freedom to react and behave based on external influences, which may be the opposite of who they truly are.
When formulating dialogue exposition, pay close attention to how these words are forming. Not only must you focus on tone and personality elements, but also emotional elements based upon who he’s speaking with, what the topic is about and where his current emotional state is at. Dialogue written according to these one-of-a-kind personality elements is engaging not only for its realism, but also its the conviction.
In my mind, the term exposition conjures images of long speeches and gut-wrenching monologues. Unfortunately, this is a shared vision amongst many writers. Evidence of this kindred thought process is found in the multiple long blocks of dialogue littered throughout the entire story. Immediately upon opening a screenplay, if I see multiple monologues (especially monologues between two or more characters), I immediately put the screenplay away. This is a shared sentiment amongst all major production decision-makers.
The most effective dialogue exposition is one that is fine-tuned. These words are so well mapped that eliminating or adding a single phrase would offset the emotional peaks and valleys experienced throughout the scene/script. While there are various techniques and guides created to assist in fine-tuning dialogue (I recommend many of them), the most important rule to remember is to write the least amount of words with the heaviest amount of purpose. Forego writing common pleasantries and other “fluff” dialogue. When your character speaks, give it genuine weight and importance.