I am currently working on a fiction novel. The way the world (magic, technology, government, species etc) works is extremely complicated.

Basically, the idea is to reveal the mechanics bit by bit . The problem is how much should I reveal? If I reveal too much the tension would be gone and there wouldn't be the unknown factor. On the other hand if I reveal too little no one would understand what is happening.

I am scared of not revealing enough, because I know how it works and it would seem to me that a given portion of information is enough although it isn't.

I am sorry for any mistakes in the question, English is not my mother tongue, if any clarifications are needed, pleas say so. [:

4 Answers 4


If you reveal too little, new revelations will be deus ex machina, cheap tricks to overcome story obstacles, elephants in the room the reader wasn't allowed to see.

The pacing of the story should be the only factor that limits the pacing of exposition of the mechanics of the world. Such exposition might be boring so keep it as sparse as to keep storytelling interesting, but otherwise do it as early as possible.

Keep events, secrets, motives and feelings in the dark and dispense them sparingly. Make the mechanics of the world, all that is common knowledge of the world's denizen, an open book, and at the very least foreshadow early any major features too big to be given proper exposure before due time.

  • I think I will provide information about the common knowledge of the government, and only the basics (there are about six forms of rule in my world). For example, there are two supreme commanders, one that leads armies in to attack and one that defends the capital. The chain of command would be revealed through the eyes of soldiers, allies, surviving enemies and other entities that are in some sort of link with the army . And so on for every form of rule, every force of nature, every aspect of magic etc. [: Thanks for your answer :D Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 11:38
  • Sorry for the lack of new lines, I can't find the edit button for this comment S: Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 11:52

It seems to me that if you're relying on the readers ignorance of the mechanisms of the world to keep up suspense, then you may have a little problem. If your story is meant to be suspenseful and intriguing, hopefully there's more going on than simple obfuscation brought about by the complexity of the world. A good mystery can be read and enjoyed even if you already know who did it; likewise, a richly built setting can be enjoyed even if the reader already knows all of the secrets.

That said, I generally think that less is more. Describe what you must, and let the reader put the rest of it together by inference. However, really the best thing for you in this instance is beta readers, as they'll be able to tell you whether they are confused, and will reveal to you which parts you've over-explained and which are trivial.

  • Of course that the complexity of the world is the least intriguing part, but I want to (or at least try) do everything the right way. Hopefully, it won't be too confusing [: Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 13:41

This is one of those things you can't always determine on your own. Give your finished story to several people to read and ask them to tell you if they felt like they understood how the world worked or if they needed more information.

(and your English is fine. :) )

  • But these people would be my friends and at the moment of reading they would think "But wait, this is him who wrote this, he must be thinking this and that". I'll try to find balance, but if I don't reveal enough, well, the reader would be forced to use his/her imagination. [: The point of this novel would be that I give only the absolute necessities, and then the reader fills the void with his imagination. But they must understand how the world works, at least partly [: Thanks [: Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 11:44
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    I never said "Give it to several friends to read." You can hire professionals too. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 12:37
  • True that. I will if the financial situation would allow me. This is not done for profit, just for fun [: Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 12:55

This will always be a matter of preference, but I'd err on the side on little exposition. As a reader, I get bored by an info dump and usually stop reading. The only exception is humour, like the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

Hannu Rajaniemi is an author who explains very little, yet his books are very successful. Some of the things/terms he uses throughout his books are only explained somewhere near the end of the book. This gets him a few angry readers, but most people like it. For me, it is fun re-reading the book to understand all that I had missed the first time.

So only reveal as much is required. Let the rest come out through the story.

  • Exactly! One of the best things for me is figuring out the mechanics. I just love when I start reading a book and a bunch of new terms are thrown at me, that eventually get explained or are open to interpretation. I will try to explain as little as possible with maintaining the essence. Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 13:24

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