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"Exposition and How to Aviod It", 4 days ago, 3:05 PM #1
a.c.i.d.

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Hey, ya'll. I'm super new to comics and would like some advice about exposition. I've read a lot of webcomics, some I love and some I'm ambivalent about, but one thing that seems to come up in critiques a lot is exposition. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what that means or entails. If you're talking about pages upon pages in the same setting of two/three characters explaining the plot or some plot point forever without moving, I think I get that, but I'm starting to get the idea that it might be more complicated than that.

In your opinion, what is exposition? What is too much of that? Is there a such thing as too little? If you need to explain a certain point in your comic, how do you handle it? Thanks, 皆 (<---again, ya'll).

E: Also, I friggin' spelled "avoid" wrong in the title. Sorry.
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4 days ago, 3:16 PM #2
merlinnia
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Exposition can either be of the narrated variety or the characters explaining to other characters variety. Common pitfalls are lore infodumps when the narrator goes on and on about the world history or religion or political climate and the reader's eyes just glaze over because they have no real reason to care yet. Or there's the "As you know, Bob..." kind of conversation where characters who both already know what a magic wand is explain it to one another for absolutely zero plausible reason, just as a gimmick to teach the audience what it is. Well done exposition is hard because you have to present it in reasonable amounts and in contexts where the reader doesn't just hear "blah blah blah" and if characters are talking about it there better be an actual story reason for them to be talking about it.
4 days ago, 3:55 PM #3
Theta Sigma

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I think the best kind of exposition for me is when it comes naturally in the story, it's important to not insult viewers with the 'as you know' thing. That's why a lot of works with a fantastical setting will often have a viewpoint character for the audience to learn the information with, someone who doesn't know about everything in advance and thus can be told everything without things feeling contrived. Info-dumps should generally be avoided as well, it's usually better to spread the information out in the story, and to show it off in creative and visual ways rather than just having two characters in a room talking about it. If you absolutely need to go the 'info-dump' route, you should try and be as creative and fun as possible with it so as not to bore the audience, the 'Mr DNA' scene from the first Jurassic Park film is a good example of this, it tells the audience quite a lot of information, but the amusing parody of shitty old science education films means it's still a fun scene.
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4 days ago, 4:05 PM #4
spidar

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I have a fantasy comic and had never realized exposition in this way could be seen as a problem... I did exactly this a few pages ago with this frame:
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I didn't realize 'as you know' was so cliche. And that whole page is dialogue. After reading people's thoughts, take this example as what not to do.
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4 days ago, 4:07 PM #5
Sovember

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I agree with everything here, sometimes it's hard not to have a little more exposition at the beginning of a story (especially a fantasy) because you have to get the reader familiar with the context, setting, and rules of the world. But the ideal is to present this info in a non contrived and creative way. Explaining sparely can be totally fine, but just jumping into a story and having people put two and two together without explicitly stating anything is great and saves time as well.
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4 days ago, 4:54 PM #6
DaniBoy

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Edit: Don't pay mind to any of this, I'm not a writer, I don't know how to English. This is just stuff I've gotten from read, and watching videos. The other people on the forum will have much more useful opinions on exposition.

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4 days ago, 7:12 PM #7
Steven-Vincent

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DaniBoy:E "OMG! That's emperor Raichu Kitsune! The most powerful sorcerer in the land, the man who took down the whole Magmar tribe with one spell!!", "Remember, Bob. We are going to the Sandals capitol to gather information about the mysterious Coconut Amulet", "I don't know how but I'm going to defeat you, Barbara, and free my people from your evil!", "Oh no! He just killed master Jaboody!" Unnecessary exposition can be a great mood killer


Well.... those are not really cases of exposition so much as bad writing.

When people complain about exposition they are usually talking about info dumps, which are much longer than just a couple of sentences. The Prologue in Lord of the Rings, which goes on for about 33 pages, is an example of exposition. I happen to like that prologue, but a lot of people don't and I know at least one person who read it and gave up on the entire trilogy.
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4 days ago, 7:14 PM #8
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I mean, you shouldn't "avoid" exposition. You disguise it, or make it enjoyable to read. Or just cut out what you don't need, that simple.

(I say that its simple, but I'm a testament to NOT WANTING TO CUT DOWN or get rid of anything because my fantasy world is muh baby)

E: one of my main concerns is fulfilling the expectations of my genre while not putting off people who don't care for high-fantasy comics, but just come for the characters or interesting conflict. It's usually those people who whine about there being too much exposition and yet when I cut back on certain things they're the first ones to complain about things being to vague or confusing. For me its a balancing act of catering to those readers who pay attention--who get offended by being spoon fed a story through exposition, and those who have short attention spans and don't like slow burning stories.
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4 days ago, 7:44 PM #9
DaniBoy

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Steven-Vincent:Well.... those are not really cases of exposition so much as bad writing.

When people complain about exposition they are usually talking about info dumps, which are much longer than just a couple of sentences. The Prologue in Lord of the Rings, which goes on for about 33 pages, is an example of exposition. I happen to like that prologue, but a lot of people don't and I know at least one person who read it and gave up on the entire trilogy.


I never really saw any length related rules on descriptive exposition, only it's describing something in detail. To me a character describing another character in great detail could be considered exposition, but I'm not a writer and am not pretending to be one. You're most likely right, and I'm just being a dumbass.

My apologies, I'll go back and fix my previous post.
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4 days ago, 7:46 PM #10
MistakeNPotatoes
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Spinneret:


Disguising exposition is the best, and not in a way that's totally implausible. Maybe not the cleanest example of what I'm talking about but I feel like I touch on the idea with these two panels:

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With the context on the rest of the page, I establish here that Jaunt doesn't see Hugh's friends very often, and also that Hugh has trouble with dimensional travel (don't we all?) without outright saying it.
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4 days ago, 9:12 PM #11
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I would add that the golden middle (between a huge info dump and explaining nothing) is to have just enough exposition to understand the part of the story that is happening now -- rather than overloading readers with info they won't need to understand until way later.

In House of C.A.R.D.S., for example, it's shown in Chapter 1 that the characters live in a country called Southlands. I don't go into the existence of other lands in this fantasy world, because they aren't part of the current story arc.

I also prefer to give visuals such as this and this rather than an extended "as you know" type of dialogue or having a wall of text that's like "Southlands has four major areas / cities and this is what they are associated with..."

There's nothing automatically wrong with having a written intro narrative, but it you do, it should be brief like the famous Star Wars scrolling text.
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4 days ago, 9:25 PM #12
Steven-Vincent

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CinemochaRK:I would add that the golden middle (between a huge info dump and explaining nothing) is to have just enough exposition to understand the part of the story that is happening now -- rather than overloading readers with info they won't need to understand until way later.


Yes, there is unfortunately a very common trend in modern (trash) writing to make stories that are deliberately incomprehensible to the reader/audience. Movies do this a lot... the movie starts with some big action set piece and you have no idea wtf is going on for 20 minutes. Then, it *might* be partially explained after that, but probably not, and often you don't know what is happening through most of the movie, by deliberate design.

Along with just enough exposition also doing it well is important. For instance in a dialogue, have people interrupt each other/interject. This changes the flow and makes it less info-dumpy.

So instead of saying, 'I was born on Krypton. My world was dying, so my father put me in an escape pod. I came to earth after my world blew up, and now thanks to the yellow sun of the earth I have superpowers.' Do something like this:

Superman - I was born on Krypton.
Lois - Kryp-what?
Superman - Krypton.
Lois - And where is that?
Superman - About 1,000 light years away.
Lois - So it took you 1,000 years to get here?
Superman - No. My escape pod moved at warp speed.
Lois -Go on.
Superman - I came to earth after my world blew up.
Lois - Did you say blew up?
Superman - Yes.
Lois - What made it blow up?

... and so on.
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4 days ago, 10:05 PM #13
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I tend to use tiny pieces of exposition scattered throughout and only when necessary.
But one of my characters tends to talk to himself, so exposition can't be avoided with him.
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4 days ago, 10:25 PM #14
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There're times when you gotta tell a lot of things together, on long stories it might very well be unavoidable, dunno, however there are tricks to make it less painful for the reader:

Firstly, exposition should never happen at the very beginning, and it should never be there for the sake of it: you gotta give the reader the info they need to understand the incoming events, so, for instance, it's cool if you've created a big, diverse fantasy world full of kingdoms with banners and customs and political regimes, but if they're not inmediatly neccesary for the plot to advance, it's best if you don't even mention them. A good idea would be to add a map of the continent on some extra page for the readers to gaze at if they feel they want to know more about your world.

Now during the actual exposition, flashbacks or the like are your best friends, give the reader some change of scenery during the exposition so they can at least feel like something is actually happening. Good thing is, this scenes don't need to make sense; for instance, someone is talking about an ancient war, then you insert some shots of soldiers marching and walls crumbling... the reader will understand it's figurative.

Another trick I've found to be pretty useful is to narrate a secondary, meaningless story while the "big one" is being told. Like, the antagonist goes on and on about his evil plans and meanwhile his evil cat is cutely trying to catch a fly, failing and trying new strategies each time. This will give the reader some air between wall of text and wall of text.

Also, the oldest trick is to never repeat the same shot twice. Intercalate closeups with high shots, use the perspective and objetcs to find stimulating ways of displaying the exposition, and above all, try to keep it as short as possible making use of the body language of your characters.
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4 days ago, 11:49 PM #15
buffylove

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Don't avoid it...EMBRACE IT!

The problem with exposition isn't doing an info dump...it's doing an info dump about stuff people don't care about and aren't interested in because you think they "need" to know it. Chances are they don't, and since they don't care about it they find those passages a waste of time.

However, the simple solution is to give that information not when you think they need it, but when they will find it fascinating...or think of it as you the writer have the responsibility to make everything you put on the page as fascinating as possible. How do you do that? Everyone comes up with different methods, but the easiest one is to figure out what you find fascinating and then convey that to the audience. Are you fascinated by how things work? Then spend a couple pages talking about how digital watches work...which then becomes important to the story later. CHEW does this all the time, breaking into the story to explain different "powers". Fascinated by characters? Then explain it in terms of a character. Someone loves their watch but it's broken and they don't know why or what to do. Fascinated by the Big Picture of your story? Then explain it in terms of that...the character needs this watch so they can flip a switch at exactly the right moment, blah blah blah.

But stop worrying about exposition or info dumps and focus on fascination. What do you find fascinating, and then how do you convey that to the audience so they will find it fascinating too.

--Paul
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3 days ago, 12:13 AM #16
Steven-Vincent

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buffylove:Don't avoid it...EMBRACE IT!

The problem with exposition isn't doing an info dump...it's doing an info dump about stuff people don't care about and aren't interested in because you think they "need" to know it. Chances are they don't, and since they don't care about it they find those passages a waste of time.

However, the simple solution is to give that information not when you think they need it, but when they will find it fascinating...or think of it as you the writer have the responsibility to make everything you put on the page as fascinating as possible.


Excellent point.

Many mysteries end with exposition, and the exposition is basically the climax. And people want the exposition because it tells them all the answers. Up to this point they have only guessed at who-dun-it and the motive and all that. But when Monk or Holmes or Poirot finally does the 'summation', which is another word for exposition, that is when you find out where you were right, and wrong, and so forth. This is often the scene the reader has been most anticipating and we gleefully consume it.

So I think this is a good point as well as the advice... write what YOU like. Don't worry if other people will like it. That comes later, and comes naturally, if you write what you love. If on the other hand you try writing what someone else likes instead of what you like, that is where you get into trouble.
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3 days ago, 12:49 AM #17
DrewSpence

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In your opinion, what is exposition?

Having characters explain something instead of showing it.


What is too much of that?

When it's noticeable.

Is there a such thing as too little?

Yes, it's showing too much of the boring bits and taking too long to build a foundation/setting/atmosphere.

If you need to explain a certain point in your comic, how do you handle it?

Place it where it should naturally go (time wise) and have the right character speak on it.


The navy seals are on the beach about to attack the stronghold. THAT'S WHEN they decide to go over the gameplan - not for them, but for you, the reader, to know how all the parts fit together and whose job is what. Phrases like "One more time..." are big hints.."So wait, we need to...."

SIDE NOTE:
Writers get around this by creating/adding a character that needs reassurance or is clueless enough that the plot keeps getting explained to them. When is it good? Ripley in Aliens- being explained how the gun works. She needs to know it then and WE will also appreciate that info later. When is it bad? When she uses the loader and sets up an obvious foreshadow.

When is it good? Luke asking Han about space warp- that's what Luke would do in that situation.
When is it bad? C3PO in any scene. He is the exposition machine. - even all the replies to R2 are plot-plaining breaks.
Worse his inclusion on Endor (planet with the ewoks)
- They are on a infiltrate and sabotage mission.
- He's GOLD, not suitable for camouflage
- He's slow and clumsy and loud
- he's a coward
- his only skill is language and R2 interfaces with everything.
He's only there for his exposition and where else was he going to be?
He actually shouldn't be in these movies anymore. He's an annoyance even to the main characters.
Although the plot twisted into him having a role, there was no way anyone could have accounted for a need for him.

So the second part is designing a character that helps tell the story... but shouldn't really be in the story.

Lastly, I find the worse offense is explaining or describing something I'd rather see than whatever is being shown.
Making a previous time in history more important/interesting than the now the story takes place in.

"It was a time of great danger and magical beasts ruled the skies and the land was filled with war and great battles"

The writer's escape route- is to do that so they can focus on just a small set of characters doing everything significant.
It simplifies the narrative.

That's the problem with comic books and their own universe. How the heck can a team battle and destroy bridges and mountains and...and...and NO OTHER heroes/villains show up or get involved- yet a simple bank robbery or heist can get the heroes attention. lol
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3 days ago, 1:14 AM #18
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Make sure the readers know what they need to know when they need to know it. There are exceptions, nothing is set in stone. Go with your gut for your story.
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3 days ago, 1:50 AM #19
Lee M

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Near the beginning of Storm Over Whoomera, Ed chose to parody this by writing a HUGE chunk of expository dialogue that filled the left-hand third of the panel. We've not done anything so extreme since, but there's still quite a lot of exposition in places.
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3 days ago, 10:39 AM #20
a.c.i.d.

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Wow, thanks everybody! ^.^ I feel like I understand a lot more clearly now. I know a lot about art, but pretty much nothing about writing for visual media, so all your examples and explanations really helped. Some of the examples made me laugh, too! I was starting to feel kinda panicked about "writing it wrong" or just overall doing a bad job, so I sincerely appreciate your help. ^O^/
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