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How to reveal information without being boring


Hello, fellow writers. 🙂

I'm completely stuck with my story, so I'd love anyone's feedback.

To make a long story short, I need to have two sub-protagonists talk about an important matter that will actually affect the story within that chapter (the 2nd chapter of the book). This talk is about a specific spell, and it needs to happen quickly, but since the matter is complicated, some time will be needed for it to take place.

But... if I give the characters too much time to chill, then the story will get boring! I know it's too soon to give any heavy explaining of the back story on certain things, but if the sub-protagonist suddenly awakens his power without the audience having the slightest idea of it existing, then instead of becoming surprised, they'll be confused as no build up will have occurred to explain this outcome.

I have already given some back story about how magic is treated in this world in a simplistic and natural way (no heavy explaining or dialogue involved), and since this character hasn't made his appearance on the first chapter, I can't talk about this specific spell (complicated matter) before his appearance on the second chapter.

I hope my explanation is clear, and you can understand my issue.
Any advice is greatly appreciated!
I like this quote that Haruki Murakami spoke about fiction writing:

“I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, ‘It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.’ I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.”

I also find that reassuring when I’m writing chapters that might feel like there’s not much going on…but I can’t claim to be speaking from an experienced point of view.

As a reader though I’d say that ‘the details are not the details’ (another quote, this time by Charles Eames, furniture designer) but I think that is also true for fiction. If an entire story consisted of spell casting and incantations that would become tedious.

What I like when reading a fantasy novel is that there is often an overarching story that is being told, and in between you get these brilliant nuggets of something extraordinary, be it magic or beasts or battles. So, the details are what matter, make them have a good rhythm so the reader is carried along.


Myth Weaver
Put some mild action into the scene. Have a rambunctious kid come tearing through. Or have one of the characters take a minor cut or burn. It could also be in the form of a good (or bad) meal.

Have the information revealed as part of an anecdote or recollection - 'You remember when we"-
Why not just have one do the spell, and then the other says: Wow! How'd you do that?

The explanation can then be teased out over several chapters.


Or allow something plot-related to happen, which requires an explanation of the workings of the magic. You said that the explanation is needed to prepare the reader for a later event -- how about a kind of foreshadowing, where something else happens that requires an immediate explanation?
I am wrestling with this problem myself at the moment. My MC has only recently discovered his magical powers, and the only teacher he can find is a very minor magician who isn't sure himself how most forms of magic work. So essentially they are experimenting together.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Is this complex spell one that runs the character's world, or is this a spell that gets you to the next plot point?

If it's the first, go with the info-dump. Tease it out beforehand. Treat it like a "reveal." Make it a good story. Loosely speaking readers will tolerate about one real info-dump. If this is it, make it good.

If it's the second, try making it urgent. Give the characters a ticking clock to get through the situation, with more going on than just the explanation. Consider the following:

Char 1 scrounges up a staff and quickly grabs some herbs: "There's no time. We have to do this."
Char 2: "Slow down, slow down, what's going on? What are you doing?"
Char 1 shoves a satchel of herbs into char 2's hand: "Here, try and keep up or the spell's going to fail...."
Char 2 gapes at him just as a police officer bangs on the front door.
Officer: "We know you're in there, come out..."
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A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Like the others, when I have to draft a lot of exposition without an infodump, I juggle. The chapter has to do more than just drop information, so we bring in conflict early to drive the story forward, combining action with information. It doesn't have to be huge action, but conflict does need to be present. We also only drop what information is needed to tell the story at that point. You can dole out more as events occur and things change, but if you inundate the reader with info that has no mooring, it will just float astray.


Myth Weaver
The answer could be anything from what's above to write it without explaining it. Write the experience from the character's head instead of blah blah blah McGyver explanation.

Another answer: don't get stuck. Just write anything that works for now.
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Myth Weaver
Im with dark one. Use the spell. Have it surprise. Have the other character ask later… how did you do that?


toujours gai, archie
You're worrying about something you have not yet written. Therefore, every fear and misgiving seems to be a problem.

Write the scene. Write it however you want, or even write it in more than one way. But get it written. You can't fix what you have not created.
But... if I give the characters too much time to chill, then the story will get boring! I know it's too soon to give any heavy explaining of the back story on certain things, but if the sub-protagonist suddenly awakens his power without the audience having the slightest idea of it existing, then instead of becoming surprised, they'll be confused as no build up will have occurred to explain this outcome.
This isn't necessarily true.

It's chapter 2 of a fantasy novel. Readers will most likely expect there to be some kind of magic. If magic then occurs, they will often just accept it as "magic is happening". They don't need a whole explanation of what the magic is and why this character suddenly has it and what the cost and consequences are.

What they do need is to be clear on what is actually going on in the moment. So not the explanation of why this character suddenly can do magic. But what does he actually do to cause the magic to happen. What is the direct cost of said magic. What actions are happening that the reader can see. That sort of thing. If that is clear, then many readers will simply accept that other stuff will be explained as they go along. You can even postpone a lot of the explaining to very late in the book or not do it at all if the main viewpoint character has no clue about magic and doesn't get what's happening at all. As long as the magic is consistent then you're fine.

It should be noted that there is a big difference between doing this in chapter 2 and in chapter 20. If you're at the climax of the book, and your character is using magic to help resolve the climax, then the reader should be very aware of what the magic can and can't do. You have a whole book to set that up and make it clear to the user. So do that. But that's not needed in chapter 2. (it's one of the big differences between setting up the conflict and resolving it).

If you want an alternative, you could also use a (throwaway) viewpoint character for that chapter who has no clue what's happening and show the events through that characters eyes. Or even not show it, just let the character hear that something's happening, or read about it in a paper. Brandon Sanderson actualy does this in the prologue of Mistborn. Because the reader doesn't know anything about the magic, he shows a boy who is saved by the protagonist by doing magic. All the magic happens off-screen. The boy (who is the viewpoint character of that chapter) only hears what's going on and sees the aftermath. Only later does the reader learn about all the magic and how it actually works.