The Pope in the Pool

I've raved about Blake Snyder's Save the Cat before, mostly because it's the best book about story structure out there. But that's not all it has to offer. One of the screenwriter's tricks he discusses is the Pope in the Pool.

This tactic was developed to deal with the problem of exposition. In case you're unclear about what exposition is exactly, Snyder defines it succinctly as: backstory or details of the plot that must be told to the audience in order for them to understand what happens next. 

The obvious problem is that when there's a lot of information to give to the reader, the scene risks being dull. The Pope in the Pool, so name by Mike Chedar, is based on a screenplay by George Englund where to counter the boredom that comes with lengthy exposition, they set the scene at the Vatican swimming pool and put the Pope in swim trunks, thereby giving the audience something interesting to focus on. Dull scene rescued.

I recently wrote a scene where my two MCs are interviewing a third character. There's lots of information I needed to have come out in the scene, but when I finished the first draft, the scene was flat and, frankly, dull.

To fix the problem, I used my own version of the Pope in the Pool.

On a whim, I'd given the third person a lap dog, so I went back and allowed the dog to become "affectionate" with the hero's leg. The heroine discreetly rescues the hero by picking up the dog. It was a start, but it wasn't enough. The scene still felt flat. So I decided the heroine is allergic to dogs.

Now there are several things going on in the scene and it's far more interesting. There's conflict and something that each character wants [u]right now[/u]. Even though it has nothing to do with the main plot of the story, the immediate wants give the scene life it didn't have before. Plus, I've just opened up some intriguing possibilities now that I know the heroine has a dog allergy. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with the information, but the possibilities are fun to play with.

How do you rescue boring exposition?


  1. That's a good tip!

    I try not to use exposition, but if required, I'll try to break it up, convey the information through more than one person.

    1. Sometimes it's just unavoidable, but it's good to have ways to deal with it.