I think it is good Idea to start by example:

Main hero is given briefcase and informed, that such briefcase contains very powerful bomb. The goal is to assassinate Prime Minister of given country. Main hero goes undetected through security checks, disguised as press worker, having one to one interview with the Prime Minister.

The briefcase goes boom earlier as expected, but luckily main hero's gut feeling saves him at the very last second, while the bomb not only kills Prime Minister, but also demolishes half of the building.

From the story itself it is very clear that briefcase bomb is plot device. It has to go through security check and it has to go boom in order for story to progress.

How much effort should I spend explaining contents of such briefcase? In story above (which I did read in one book) it is just handwoven with one sentence.

As a reader, I got really curious of what might be in such briefcase so it passes security checks. But as a writer, I do not know if a story should actually explain it.

3 Answers 3


I would say it would depend on whether specifics of the device has any bearing on the plot. In your example the bomb specifications themselves don't seem to be relevant to the story.

  • 1
    I generally agree. It depends what genre you're writing in — history? thriller? SF? mystery? Different genres have different expectations. If the bomb's workings are not a major plot point, then don't bother going into technical detail. In a thriller it will probably be much more important than in a SF story, where you can just handwave it as TECH which TECHs the TECH scanner and be done with it (or your hero guy doesn't understand TECH at all and it's all "blah blah blah" to him). Aug 3, 2015 at 11:26
  • Definitely only go into detail if it's relevant somehow. In the briefcase example, is the story about the bomb or is it about the conflict that necessitates the bomb? Don't spend lots of time dwelling on the briefcase if things like its color and shape and mechanics don't actually matter to the story, because then you're just wasting words. It sounds like the author of the briefcase scenario you describe did the right thing by hand-waving it, because the story is more about his journey and goal than about the bomb itself.
    – thanby
    Aug 18, 2015 at 16:51

I think your question is a bit shallow for proper answer, but i will try to discribe:

1) What kind of story are you telling? Is is criminal story about your hero going in pathway of the briefcase bomb maker?

If it is, your hero will need some information about that briefcase. Color, weight, maybe small details as locks, material of the briefcase or such things like that.

Your hero will need them to have some clues to work on as he will be searching for answers.

2) Different story only about hero not researching crime? I think in this case is your briefcase irrelevant. It is only "thing" that made situation your hero is in. So details of it is not relevant, only thing mentioned is that bomb was in briefcase and it done terrible things. That's it.

I will recommend you to think about, what story you want tell, and after that you will find what details about briefcase you need for a proper story.


My approach: Focus on the main hero's viewpoint. If the main hero thinks about the contents, write that. If the main hero has an opinion about the contents, write that. If the main hero feels some emotion about the contents write that.

The key to deciding what to put in is not what he knows, but what he thinks and feels in the course of the story.

For example: I imagine that the main hero would be quite concerned about how the bomb will go through security. If the bomb is made of materials that might set off detectors, he would think about that as he goes through security. If the explosive is some material that escapes detection, he might think about that.

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