Literary Terms: Exposition

By Pilar Celorio

What is exposition?

Exposition is the background (introduction) information provided in a story. In literature the exposition is the introductory material that creates the tone, gives the setting, introduces the characters, and supplies other facts necessary to understanding the story.


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Exposition

When you start to read a book or watch a movie or television program, the story does not typically begin with the birth of the main character. But often times a writer will need to provide certain details about a character's past in order for the reader or spectator to understand the story. Exposition provides an audience not only with the important details about the characters before the story begins but it also helps the audience get to know the setting of where the narrative will unfold.


How is exposition delivered?

One of the most popular methods is via dialogue where the characters are talking to another about the past. A writer can work background information naturally into a conversation so that a reader can put pieces together to get the information they need. Other popular methods are the use of newspaper clips, flashback sequences or even the narrator can provide the exposition.


Examples

One of the most popular examples of exposition in film occurs at the beginning of every 'Star Wars' movie. Using moving text, people read all the past details that they will need to know in order to understand where the plot of the film will begin.


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In a novel/book:

The author typically places the backstory at the beginning. The aim here is to immediately introduce the reader to the characters and the setting.


For example in the story "The 3 little bears" the exposition goes something like this:

"Once upon a time there were three little bears, a mama bear, a papa bear, and a baby bear. They lived deep in the forest, far away from any people. One morning, mama bear decided to treat her family to a hot serving of porridge."




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Quiz yourself!


What is exposition in film?


A)The portion of the plot that sets out story events and important character traits

B)A chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space

C)The introduction of conflict into the plot that needs to be resolved for the story to be complete

D)The development of the story elements and characters once they are introduced