Screenwriter Justin Marks has been described as the “most gainfully employed professional fanboy on the planet right now.” Understandably so given the fact Justin has written such projects The Raven, Super Max, Suicide Squad, Shadow of the Colossus, Hack/Slash and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo.
In addition, the Hollywood Reporter featured this guest column Justin wrote called “My Life as a Screenwriter You’ve Never Heard Of.” That promises to change considering he has been working on two other high profile projects: The Jungle Book and Top Gun 2.
Last night, Justin went on a Twitter rant. The subject: Exposition. Reprinted here by permission:
Feeling one of those @HIGHzurrer-esque rants coming on about exposition. May have a couple drinks later, so to speak.
Definitely gonna do this in a little bit. All questions will soon be answered, I promise.
Exposition. Very soon now…
Seriously guys, this exposition talk is gonna be good. Just a little bit longer.
Is it working yet?
Seduction. It’s all in the seduction.
I have something. I won’t tell you what it is. But it will surprise and intrigue you. And I’m waiting as long as I can to tell.
Do you want the information yet? I won’t give it to you. Maybe in ten pages? Here’s a kernel. But you’re not going to get it… ..until you beg.
Exposition sucks. Everyone hates it. Writing, reading it, whatever. Why do we need it? Because it’s the carrot at the end of the stick.
So the only way I deal. Me, personally. The only way I can suffer it is to make it a game.
The setup. I know more than you. Can you beat me, can you guess what’s going on before I explain it?
The payoff. This is where we make mistakes. If you give them everything they want to know, the game is over. So you have to keep it going.
And to me that’s fun. Because when writing exposition I don’t worry about what I’m explaining. I worry about what I’m still withholding.
Here’s my personal tip. Don’t write the ugly, explain-it-all-away version of an exposition scene. Skip that…
…write the version of the scene where 2 people talk, and the “explaining” character doesn’t give anything away.
This is the place where the scene feels alive. Where it’s all promise. I do that. Then I unwillingly allow a few details to slip through.
Always things that must come across, but I find if your characters do it while kicking and screaming, you don’t lose the drama.
Kyle Reese. He doesn’t want to tell her anything. He wants to save her life. Talking is the only way Sarah Connor sticks around.
Anyway the other part is don’t overstay your welcome. As soon as the reader knows everything they become bored with you and your exposition.
So that’s it. I’m done!
Information. Data. Backstory. Any of that can be exposition. Necessary, but often a bore. The temptation may be to just lay it all out there in one fell swoop. Justin’s tip is the inverse of that. Tease it. Make it a game. Seduce the reader through titillation. Less is more. It’s a great take on one way to handle exposition.
To read my May 2013 interview with Justin, go here.