With spoilers for: Game of Thrones – Seasons 1 – 3
Try to put yourself in the place of Weiss & Benioff 5 years ago. Your job is to establish and illustrate a vast, quasi-Medieval universe – its characters, geography, politics, history, technology, weather patterns and the manner in which all of these things correspond to one another. This has got to be one of the greatest expositional challenges in the history of drama. And to top it off, the screenwriters had the balls to attempt it all without a single voice-over or flashback. So how did they do it? Here are a few ways…
Part of the brilliance of Game of Thrones lies in how it embeds its exposition into the vocabulary of its characters. This means that background information is often revealed through a range of literary devices, such as exaggeration – as found in the recurrent simile “rich as a Lannister” and in S02E04, when Renly denigrates Stannis:
The Iron Throne is mine by right. All those that deny that are my foes.
The whole realm denies it, from Dorne to the Wall. Old men deny it with their death rattle and unborn children deny it in their mothers’ wombs. No-one wants you for their king.
By far the most abundant technique in the series, the argument refers to any instance in which characters ‘show their working’, pointing to evidence that reinforces their beliefs. A classic example of this comes from S02E01, as Tyrion gets reacquainted with Cersei.
Both characters are already well-aware of the points Tyrion is making here. However, because he’s using them to justify his newly-appointed position as Hand of the King, they sound like part of an authentic conversation – rather than some clunky recap of Season 1.
I should add that this technique is often misunderstood to mean that exposition should be the product of two people fighting – smashing plates and dredging up the past in a bid to score points against one another. It’s more general than that though. Take the scene between Renly and Loras, where Loras is convincing Renly that he would make a good king. Here we have the argument technique in action; Loras is giving evidence to support his argument. However, it clearly isn’t the case that the two of them are having an argument.
Everyone already knows about this one, but I might as well mention it anyway. The newcomer works by creating a character with the same level of knowledge as the audience. Thus, when other characters are explaining stuff to her, they’re really explaining stuff to us – but in a manner which is relevant to the story. This often comes across as rather lazy storytelling – however, because Daenerys and Jorah are two well-made characters, and because this is just one of a rainbow of expository techniques, GoT definitely gets away with it.
These are the three enemies of exposition, the three adjectives that most commonly end up describing it. This occurrence seems to be driven by a belief that exposition is inherently boring; the writer ‘knows’ that people hate this stuff and so attempts to get it out the way as quickly and early on as possible.
In the worst cases, the final result is the infamous infodump: a scene in which the audience is smothered with information. This technique is not only unentertaining, unnatural, unmemorable – it is also completely self-defeating, as the boredom induced by it causes the audience to switch off and ignore the stuff they were supposed to be taking in.
Hey, Sy, is this a great life or what?
Vida loca, amigo!
Louise pays us to patrol these beaches. You know, one of the guys in the harbour told me about this dive spot which is just crawling with lobsters.
[From Shark Attack 3: Megalodon]
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Exposition doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, learn to tame it, control it and it’ll put you streets ahead of the vast majority of screenwriters. First-
With spoilers for: The Dark Knight
Part One of Exposition Techniques.
You know how Inception begins with a dream within a dream. That’s a perfect example of the immersion technique for me. Create a world, put the audience in the middle of it and let them figure it all out for themselves.
It sounds risky, but I don’t think it’s nearly as dangerous as people think. After all, we learn language this way. Most of your vocabulary comes from hearing how words are used, then deducing their meanings from that. You don’t need a lexicographer to tell you how to communicate.
Unconvinced? Well, try watching a film half of the way in and see how well you can follow it. Sure, it’ll be harder to understand, and a lot of scenes might lose their tension and emotional kick. But you’ll probably be able to make sense of it a lot more easily than you’d imagine. I started watching Lost half-way into the first series and I can’t remember feeling all that confused.