Common mistakes: Expository Dialogue

Posted in Dialogue on Oct 12, 2009

Another dialogue problem, expository dialogue is when you use dialogue to tell us things about the story or the characters in an unnatural way. For example, “Have a great day at work in the hospital, dear.” Assuming this is a spouse or talking to another spouse, we can also assume that they already know where they work, it sounds phony and unnatural to state it, and it’s clearly done just to tell the audience that the person works in the hospital.

Or “Your sister, Beth is at the door.” Most people know the name of their sister. This sounds more like an introduction. Or, if speaking to a close friend or family member: “Hi Mary, I had a hard day working at the train station today. My boss, John, was riding me all day.” A close friend would know where the speaker worked, and probably the boss’s name. Most people don’t call people by their first names on a regular basis either. A more realistic line would be: “Work was tough, John was riding me all day.”

Expository dialogue is a common problem and will almost always be present to some extent in first drafts. It is important to review your script to make sure your dialogue sounds natural, realistic, and like something your characters would actually say. Paying attention to how real people talk, and always listening when you are out around others will help you develop an ear for natural, realistic dialogue and help you write accurate dialogue that improves your story.


3 to “Common mistakes: Expository Dialogue”

  1. Andre says:

    You know that I’m always getting criticized for using
    expository dialogues.

    But I disagree.

    Most of these types of scripts(see below) consist of expository dialogues and they do well at the box office and for the producers and investors:
    -gangster/mafia/crime scripts
    -video games like , halo, grand theft auto
    -iconic movies like Scarface with my man Al Pacino
    -graphic novels that’s being adpated like crazy
    -comic books, again they are being adopted like crazy

    Expository dialogues can work if done correctly and with a poetic touch and some risk. I repeat: with a poetic touch, those found in Rap lyrics.

    Movies and box-office screenplays are not a University course in English or a debate with Rhode scholars.

  2. Mike says:

    “Expository dialogues can work if done correctly and with a poetic touch and some risk. I repeat: with a poetic touch, those found in Rap lyrics.”

    Can you give us some examples? I’ve never seen expository dialogues work. It seems that successful writers have ways to confer names of characters through normal seeming conversation.

    “Your sister is at the door.”
    character opens door and says: “Hey Beth why are you here?”

  3. ginger says:

    Andre, thank you for the comment. It’s true that there are times when expository dialogue is necessary, however it is rarely the only or best way to convey information. If you’re getting critiqued for your use of expository dialogue, take a look at the things you’re getting comments on, and compare that to the successful use of exposition in the films you admire. There are ways to reveal details naturally and subtly through good dialogue.

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