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[Comments] (2) : Useful literary concept: just-in-time exposition. (looking I see that Patrick Nielsen Hayden came up with this term earlier.)

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Posted by Brendan at Mon Sep 24 2007 03:13

I'm... not sure I like that concept. It reminds me of the dumb Denzel Washington movie Fallen:

Denzel: "The demon said it could only live outside a body for a whisper..."
Theologist Girl: "In ancient Hebrew texts, a whisper is said to carry a hundred feet!"
Denzel: "So we just have to kill its host when it's a hundred feet away from anyone else!"

Which all takes place about five minutes before the climax. It is literally just in time to set that up, which I think contributes to making it seem completely arbitrary.

But presumably you meant something more interesting than that--can you elaborate?

Posted by Leonard at Mon Sep 24 2007 09:53

Well, there are a couple other things wrong with that exposition. The seemingly meaningless piece of trivia should be exposited *before* the thing it explains. And if you want suspense or mystery, then you need some space between the two.

So there are many other constraints on the timing and order of exposition. Just-in-time exposition smears the exposition throughout the story to avoid infodumps (too much exposition too soon) and as-you-know-Bob (exposition too late). I guess you could call as-you-know-Bob "just in time" because the story can't progress without it, but we react so negatively to it that I prefer to think of it as "too late".

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