I was wondering what your thoughts are about occasionally adding exposition into action lines, when it can’t be explicitly shown on screen.
The room bursts out in laughter, which quickly turns into applause. A few EXECS standing at the back of the room smile to each other, and nod their heads in amusement. The publishing wunderkind, #29 on Forbes’ Top 30 under 30, has done it again! The pleased crowd begins to disperse.
Since this information isn’t actually going to be shown to the audience in the scene, is it bad form to add it in? Or is it helpful in giving the reader a quick sense of the character and making the action lines a little less dry?
— Isaac Aptaker
Your specific example probably wouldn’t be to my taste. Once you have the people in the room smile, laugh, applaud and nod, it’s hard to justify another line to underscore the point again.
But in general, yes. Used judiciously, these for-the-reader-only snippets are fine. I often find myself using them when introducing an important character for the first time.
From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
Mother Bucket is an ever-exhausted woman in her late 30’s, run ragged from taking care of Charlie and the four invalid grandparents. Many nights, she’s too tired to worry, and too worried to sleep.
FINNEA (29) comes up to Barbarella at the podium, and hugs her in a sisterly but somewhat obvious manner, as if trying to share her spotlight.
While Barbarella could be compared to the wildflowers she paints -- joyful, open and a bit scattered -- Finnea is like a cultivated rose. She’s very beautiful but very focused. And one suspects there are thorns to protect her.
Nothing in these descriptions is directly cinematic, but it gives the reader (and the director, and the actor) a much better idea of the intention. Just make sure that you’re never confusing these blips of exposition with real character work. Movies are about what characters do and say, not who they were before the story started.