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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Rewatching Death Note: Tension through exposition

It's been a good, long while since I've watched Death Note. Maybe since it first aired here in the States. I really loved it then, but I was in High School so I related with Light--Kira--a little too much. Don't get me wrong, personally, I don't go in for life being sacred or special. No intrinsic value to it whatsoever!

But I digress.

A couple of things strike me about Death Note. Some of it is the philosophy. It is incredibly nihilistic. Light and Ryuuk (fuck that name, let's call him R.) both find themselves bored with life. They see it as without reward or value. They see it as rotten.

So, R. drops the eponymous Death Note and Light gets the note and so the story begins.

However, the other thing and the thing I really want to talk about is how almost no action happens throughout the narrative and yet the story remain tense and dramatic through dialogue alone. This in and of itself isn't too strange. Dialogue can drive everything forward and give us some of our best moments. I mean, how many times have you watched Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill and just fallen in love with the great interactions between the characters and the memorable as hell lines.

But what strikes me even more is the fact that a great amount of this dialogue is expositional, that is, they explain what is happening in the story over and over again. You can see why this might be an issue. After all, exposition can suck out all the drama of the story and make everything feel stilted and unnatural. Yet, Death Note manages to avoid this trap.

The thing that makes Death Note special is that while you, the viewer, may have an idea to individual character motivations and there various musings, the rest of the cast doesn't always. This is interesting because s writers we must be able to use every tool at our disposal. While, often times, exposition is seen as the death of dialogue, it can be used as an effective tool to build tension for the audience yet still maintain an air of mystery for the characters of the narrative.

Through the use of exposition in this way we can keep our main characters or cast working toward and against things, and yet keep them mysterious enough that there is always a sense of the unknown. It keeps the reader in the loop without giving them everything. This makes Death Note special and makes the writing strong. As a writer it helps to keep the logic of the story from falling apart because it is constantly being laid out for us all.

In other words, watch Death Note and better your writing.