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Exposition

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Exposition

Exposition is a literary technique by which background information about the characters, events, or setting is conveyed in a novel, play, movie, short story or other work of fiction. This information can be presented through dialogue, description, flashbacks, or directly through narrative.
Because exposition generally does not advance plot and tends to interrupt action, it is usually best kept in short and succinct form, though in some genres, such as the mystery, exposition is central to the story structure itself. The alternative to exposition is to convey background information indirectly though action, which, though more dramatic, is more time consuming and less concise. (Source: Exposition_%28literary_technique%29 at Wikipedia )
For an example of exposition, see Chapter 6 of Dispensing Justice. (e)

From Exposition (literary technique) at Wikipedia:

Methods of Exposition[edit]

Methods of exposition include:

Prologue[edit]

Prologues are common in certain genres, especially in the theatre. For example, in Oedipus the King, by the Greek dramatist Sophocles, the opening dialogue between Oedipus and the Chorus serves as a sort of prologue. Many of the plays of Shakespeare begin with a character coming forward and speaking the prologue to set the scene - Romeo and Juliet being one of the best-known examles. In Hamlet, he has the exposition performed by Bernardo, Marcellus and Horatio in the first scene, and by Hamlet's father's ghost in Act I, Scene IV.

Character Lecture[edit]

The most straightforward way of exposition through dialogue is the character-to-character lecture. This generally involves is an expert or someone otherwise "in the know" explaining something to a less knowledgeable character. This technique is widely used in science fiction and fantasy to give the background to a story--and in any genre in which significant technical or esoteric information is required. Examples are abundant and varied:

  • Mulder's slideshows on strange phenomena in "The X-Files".
  • In every episode of CSI, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY, one of the main characters will explain how they discovered a key piece of evidence, and the scientific basis for that discovery to another main character.
  • The TV series The West Wing often uses this device to explain some complicated point of law or legislative procedure to the audience by having the character Joshua Lyman explain it to his seemingly naive secretary Donna Moss.

Problems with exposition[edit]

The Plot Dump[edit]

When the presentation of exposition becomes awkward or wordy, it is sometimes referred to by the pejorative expressions "plot dump" and "info dump". In written fiction, the term is additionally used to indicate giving information by exposition rather than revelation through action and dialogue; if such passages are well-written and intriguing, they may be described as "info-dumping" with no pejorative intent. This method has long been used in classic drama and modern productions where the plot is the consequence of preceding events that would either weigh down the production or would reveal too much, spoiling the mystery. Exposition is also necessary in some dramas since it can be from the point of view and perception of a character, and may or may not accurately reveal the facts. Examples of such well done exposition include Shakespeare's Hamlet and the 1956 film Forbidden Planet.

The term "plot dump" is usually invoked in a derisive sense. Plot dumps at the beginning of a movie are often tolerated as a necessity for setting the premise of the plot; this is the case for such widely-acclaimed movies as Casablanca and Star Wars. However, a plot dump expressed by characters in dialogue during the course of the movie is often taken to be indicative of an inferior narrative. Examples of the latter sense often take the form of one character explaining elaborate details regarding another character that would seem exaggerated and out-of-place in real-life conversation.

A stereotypical and exaggerated example of inferior plot dump would be:

Joe: Who's at the door?
Mary: Oh, it's my uncle, who was released from prison yesterday after serving ten years for stealing the family jewels from this very house, although the jewels themselves have never been found and are rumored to be buried in a secret chamber guarded by the ghost of my late grandmother.

Villains are frequently given to making speeches about their sinister plans to helpless heroes, often foolishly prefacing their exposition with the comment that it can't hurt to divulge the plan, since the hero will be dead soon anyway (or the plan will be impossible to stop in the short time available). This is known as the villain speech or monologuing. James Bond villains and comic book supervillains are particularly prone to it, and it is seldom even given such justification as the villain's desire to have his cleverness admired by the one man who could appreciate the extent.

Plot dump tends to be more tolerated on television than in the movies because the narrative of television episodes is shorter. Plot dumps are especially common in sit-coms in the introduction of non-recurring characters which drive the comedic plot of a particular episode. A prime example would be the use of the narrator in Arrested Development to quickly sum up revelations and inner thoughts of characters in order to keep the viewer tuned to the plot. In serial television drama, exposition in individual episodes is often relegated to a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase "Previously on [name of series]."

In television sketch comedy, which itself borrows heavily from the tradition of vaudeville comedy, plot dump in the most exaggerated sense is often used explicitly for outrageous comedic effect. In this case, plot dump is not seen as a weakness but as a standard and necessary aspect of the genre which is expected by audiences.

Stories which are concerned with the unearthing of a secret past rarely avoid plot dump sequences. For example, substantial portions of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash are naked, unapologetic infodumps, with lengthy Idiot Lecture and Exposition sequences. These gradually bleed into theorizing about the implications of the dumped information. Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum mixes speculation and infodump throughout, with characters almost inventing events simply by infodumping their possibility.

Plot dump parodies[edit]

The Austin Powers film series has a character named Basil Exposition whose job was to repeatedly plot dump as a parody of the process in ordinary movies.

The series Mystery Science Theater 3000 always mocked movies who made blatant use of this practice. For example, in Parts: The Clonus Horror, there is a scene where a character views a videotape that explains the organization's origins and purpose in painstaking detail, basically providing all of the necessary exposition in one fell swoop. Tom Servo quips, "Good thing he wandered into the Department of Backstory!" At the beginning of another MST3k movie, Riding with Death, an extra consults a computer file containing information about the movie's protagonist for completely unexplained reasons (other than providing exposition). Once again, Servo notes this by referring to the computer as the "Backstory Database".

Plot dumps are parodied in the movie Spaceballs when Colonel Sandurz explains a plan to Dark Helmet, though Dark Helmet should have already known the plan. Dark Helmet then faces the camera and, breaking the fourth wall, asks the audience "Everybody got that?" to parody the true purpose of the plot dump.

Several villains in the Nickelodeon series Danny Phantom have been prone to plot dumping, especially the recurring technology ghost, Nicolai Technus. This is made into a running gag in the episode "Identity Crisis." In that episode, Technus claims to have upgraded himself, one of the advantages of the upgrade being that he would no longer shout his nefarious plot into the sky. He was able to maintain this for most of the episode (at one point even criticizing Danny for shouting something into the air himself), but eventually dictates his plot to himself near victory, immediately afterwards saying, "Nobody heard that, right?"

In the stage musical Urinetown, the first song is in fact titled "Too Much Exposition" during which the Narrator and Little Sally explain about the drought that caused the water shortage, and in turn the end of private bathrooms. While discussing the issue Officer Lockstock finally stops Little Sally before she reveals too much because "nothing can kill a show like too much exposition."

As you know, Jim[edit]

"As you know, Jim" (or "As you know, Bob") is a particularly clumsy form of info-dump through dialogue in which characters tell each other things they already know.[1], Sometimes the other character will even say something like, "Why are you telling me this? I was there!"


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