Question 93: When to be detailed or vague

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JoyeEverett715 asks: My character goes through a long period in the story where she secretly researches how to modify a dark spell to save her people. How would one go about conveying the information she's learned to the reader without it being a big info-dump? And how does one make the research scenes interesting?

The first thing to ask yourself is this: How important are the details of this spell to the plot of the story? You determine this by figuring out what the bulk of the story will be about. In the scenario you present, the story could be handled in a few different ways:

1. The story is all about the adventures had while gathering the things needed for this spell. A lot of video games do this.

2. As the character learns more about the spell, she learns more about herself. The spell is part of her personal journey.

3. The story is about various characters doing things and reacting to each other. There's a strong plot happening, of which the spell is only a small piece.

If your story is more like #3, then you actually don't need to divulge much about the spell. Only relevant details need to be shared. The reader doesn't need to know every single ingredient, just the ones that will change what the character is focused upon. The things that affect the story. Things that don't really influence the story are irrelevant and tend to be boring.

Avoiding the Info-Dump

If your story is more like #1 or 2, then spell details will be needed. Just not all at once - that's the key. Think of the spell as pieces of the plot and reveal them piece by piece, ideally when they become relevant.

To look at it another way, this spell could be like a 50-page report you have to write. If you think about everything at once, you start feeling overwhelmed. Discussing all aspects of the spell at once can overwhelm the reader. But if you focus on the first piece--for example, choosing which country your report will be on--it will be more manageable and interesting. The character can explore how she feels about this part of the spell, or reflect on what others might think.

While she does that, the rest of the spell doesn't matter. That's future stuff. There's no need to talk about it until she's ready to deal with it.

For a refresher on info-dumps, visit Chapter 25: Avoid the Info-Dump.

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