Let's imagine a book where my character holds the power of light. Reason being, everyone in his country is born with telekinesis. He however, is the only one with enough grasp of the (maybe a little unrealistic) physics of that world, and that's why his light powers are so impressive.

The question is, how much should i explain these physics? Can i give a broad answer (Like "yeah i'm using telekinesis to reflect light everywhere) or should i go into detail as to how and why that works?

If i do need to go into detail, how do i make it not long and boring? I'd have to explain something a bit convoluted, but i don't want to bring the whole story to a halt to do it.


Lauren linked me to a question that this is supposed a duplicate of, however, as Standback pointed out, the difference here is that he is the only person who understands this, meaning that's what makes him stand out as a character.

Understanding complex physics that literally no one else understands and using it to his advantage is what separates from everyone else. If i don't explain it, it might seem a bit Deus-ex-machina, or even worse, it might seem as if he was born with it.

Another problem with the answer to that other question is that i can't introduce a cabbagehead character because essentially, everyone is a cabbagehead. Nobody understands as much as he does, and some wouldn't even care if he explained.

So how should i do it?

  • 1
    What age reader are you targetting? Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 17:38
  • Let's say, young adults and maaaybe teens Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 17:57
  • Possible duplicate of How should I introduce new and complex technologies or tools? Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 18:25
  • 1
    The question @LaurenIpsum referenced will definitely be helpful. IMHO, this feels a touch different, in that your viewpoint character is the only one who understands the details, and his understanding seems like a vital part of the character. I've edited the title to reflect that.
    – Standback
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 9:33

5 Answers 5


I think it depends on what the main problem is in the novel. If the main problem is technical in nature, the reader needs to have some sense of what it technically possible. If the main problem is psychological or moral, however, what matters is the decision to use or not use the power in question.

There is a whole cottage industry online doing "if A has power B why don't they just do C" analysis of superhero movies. Most superpowers are poorly explained and inconsistently applied, and it usually doesn't matter because the movies are essentially morality plays.("With great power comes great responsibility.)

The main thing is that the reader should not feel that the author has changed the rules in the middle of the game in order to get the ending they want.


How well do YOU understand the physics of what the character is doing? If you have a detailed, fully internally consistent process worked out, then you can probably just allude to it in very general terms if the in world population wouldn't understand it (and perhaps the character himself doesn't have the scientific vocabulary to articulate it if he is the only one with this capability). A detailed "data dump" could be reserved for an appendix just so you could show those readers interested how cool it all is.

I think a generally good rule of thumb for technical explanations is that if you have to resort to mathematical equations, you've gone too far (unless you are trying to write the fantasy equivalent of a Tom Clancy technothriller) :)

So, for example, you may say "harnessed the intensity of high energy green visible light to cut through armor plate" rather than "focused 540 nm wavelength radiation in 0.5 nanosecond pulses to sear through tempered steel".


Since he or she appears to be your protagonist leaving out how such a powerful "tool" can exist is a powerful tool indeed. A kid's imagination is not going to be overwhelmed by the fact of such an ability but what your character does with it. If it's such an exceptional power how is this so? meaning...through usage show the exceptional nature of this ability...but I would say to add the necessary drama you need to show the Fatal Flaw in it as well. If there is some "laboratory" or "reflective zone" where your character can go to "refresh" this power that sounds pretty cool to me.


If you're writing for broad audience, you will be accepted if you're skimming the details and not going in-depth.

If you focus on a specific audience, you might ride the wave of the success of The Martian if you go really in-depth. Instead of "power of light", gain mastery of electromagnetic waves. Radio, laser, X-ray, microwave (+radar), infrared, ultraviolet, matters of light pressure, albedo, polarization, even quantum entanglement - that's all your oyster to open, discover ways the character can exploit the understanding of common "light wave" and apply it to their advantage.

Personally, I don't see how it could be derived from levitation though.


A former boss asked me to: "State your results, but don't tell me the details."

That might be a good rule for your physics "whiz." Talk about what he can do, but don't tell how he does it.

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