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This is post #27. Part 2 in a short series on Character Development - this time covering using characters for the delivery of expositon.





This is part of my little mini series looking at character. Last time I talked about character diction sort of generically - about how your characters speak. Now I want to talk a little bit more specifically about how your character deliver expositions.

This basically is a conversation about the difference between what I would call “Neighbor Exposition” and “Stranger Exposition”. There’s one way that you would talk to someone you know: a neighbor (and that doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘neighbor’: it could be a husband, a wife, a child, a friend, a colleague, a co-worker, someone that you know), versus a stranger - someone that you don’t know. There’s a very different way to deliver exposition.

Clearly it’s easier when it’s a stranger, because a stranger is going to need more explanation, and therefore you, as a playwright, get the opportunity to give a lot more information to your audience because you have a stranger. This is why sometimes it can be incredibly useful— just as a side note - to make sure that you have a stranger in your show that needs things explained to them. It can be incredibly useful to have that stranger, that first-timer, the person who’s new on the block, the person who just started work today, the new boyfriend or girlfriend who needs things explained to them, because that gives you an excuse to explain those things to the audience.

But when you have characters who know each other, you don’t have that excuse and that’s where your job as a book writer gets more difficult, more challenging, and hopefully - more fun! Because you have to figure out the kind of shorthand that characters use when the people are they’re speaking to someone they know. How can you get the information across that you want?

Now one of the keys to this is to remember that you don’t always have to get all of your information across at once, or as much detail as you think you need. So, you can allow your audience to play detective. Usually we like that, we like to be detectives. We like to take little nuggets of information and add them up and figure things out on our own. So, your job as a bookwriter then is to figure out, “okay in this scene, because these two people know each other, they wouldn’t have a natural reason to discuss how long they’ve been married, or how long it’s been since the neighbor next door moved in.”

Let’s just say, for instance, they’re talking about their dog. But they’re just going to say “Fluffy this” or “Fluffy that”. They’re not going to say “dog”, so how are we going to know they are talking about a dog? These are the things you need to think about.

How can you make sure that these characters aren’t saying things to each other that neighbors wouldn’t say to each other, and yet your audience is getting enough information to keep them picking up the breadcrumbs and putting together the bits and pieces of information that they need. It can take a whole scene, it can take longer than that for them to put together all the information that they need. So, you need to be planting those breadcrumbs along the way, so that you don’t wind up with awkward sounding dialogue where people are having conversations with each other that they simply wouldn’t have in that way, because of the fact that they have shared information.

One other quick aside in that arena is: sometimes people are more likely to get specific about things in a neighbor relationship, that they wouldn’t otherwise, if they’re angry. Exposition through anger is an incredibly useful thing. Something like “In the six years I’ve known you, you never once took out the trash without being told!” - is a fabulous way to let us know they’ve been together for six years, which is something that normally would not come up in conversation.

Stranger exposition is going to be easier for you. So put a stranger in there if you can, but again be really ruthless with yourself about the neighbor exposition, and make sure that the information you need to get across to me is getting across to me as an audience member in a way that that still seems natural to the way that people would speak to each other when they already know each other. Another tip towards character.