Michelle Lipton

Michelle Lipton

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McKee on Exposition

August 17, 2009 ,

First up in this series of posts looking at advice offered by screenwriting books, Robert McKee’s Story has this to say on the subject of handling exposition:

“Exposition means facts – the information about setting, biography and characterisation that the audience needs to know to follow and comprehend the events of the story.

Within the first pages of a screenplay a reader can judge the relative skill of the writer simply by noting how he handles exposition.  Well done exposition doesn’t guarantee a superb story, but it does tell us that the writer knows the craft.”

“Skill in exposition means making it invisible. As the story progresses, the audience absorbs all it needs to know effortlessly, even unconsciously … In other words, dramatise exposition.”

“Dramatised exposition serves two ends: Its primary purpose is to further the immediate conflict. Its secondary purpose is to convey information.”

“No-one ever tells someone something they both already know unless saying the obvious fills another and compelling need.  Therefore, if this information is needed, the writer must create a motivation for the dialogue that’s greater than the facts.”

Convert exposition to ammunition … when [the] story is thick with conflict, the characters need all the ammunition they can get. As a result, the writer has little trouble dramatising exposition and facts flow naturally and invisibly into the action … when stories lack conflict, the writer is forced into ‘table dusting’.”

“You do not keep the audience’s interest by giving it information, but by withholding information, except that which is absolutely necessary for comprehension.  Pace exposition … save the best for last … [and] create the desire to know by arousing curiosity … with a hunger for information, even the most complicated set of dramatised facts will pass smoothly into understanding.”

What do you think?

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Story is full of so much good stuff and it applies to all writing, not just screenplays. In fact, I must reread it some time.

Andy Gibb

August 17, 2009

So glad you’re posting these bite-size pieces of screenwriting advice, Michelle. I read some of “Story”- and there was some really useful stuff in there – but a lot of the time I felt completely overwhelmed by it. The advice on handling exposition is much easier to absorb now that you’ve summed it up in a post. Thanks!


August 18, 2009

Thanks Helen! It’s nice to sit and have a look through for the snippets to be honest. If nothing else, reading about writing always makes me want to write. Who doesn’t need a kick up the bum from time to time?


August 20, 2009

2 notes

  1. Screenwriting Books « Michelle Lipton reblogged this and added:

    […] up: McKee on Exposition Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Book MemeGood Advice for the Book […]

  2. Are MMOs the best model for real time story? — Justin Gibbs reblogged this and added:

    […] it’s tracks and should be avoided at all costs. The screenwriting guru Robert Mckee advices turning exposition into ammunition. Skill in exposition means making it invisible. As the story progresses, the audience absorbs all […]


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