Q&A: Details

I’m writing a character that is learning a variety of martial arts from a teammate. Should I avoid going into detail when describing the fights due to her inexperience as she is relatively new to this fighting style

No. If you do cull the detail down it wouldn’t be because of your character’s inexperience.

In writing, the amount of detail included in the material is a balance. You use details to sell the setting to the audience; to establish a sense of verisimilitude. You also use details to convey important information to the audience without saying it overtly. Sometimes this is because you’re foreshadowing or because you’re establishing a theme.

In first and third person limited, culling details because a character doesn’t have the requisite experience or knowledge is a valid justification. That said, it’s something you should be very careful about using. Withholding information from the audience can be seen as screwing around with them. You had your scene, your characters went in, had their conversations, but your narrator missed something really important without understanding what they were seeing, and didn’t relate that to the audience at all. That last part is what can get you in trouble.

It’s fine to put a character in a scene and include details they don’t understand. There is nothing wrong with your audience being a step or two ahead of your characters. The reader has a detached view of things, and can evaluate what’s happening with a frame of reference the characters do not share.

The simple advice is: If a detail is important to the story, the atmosphere, or to your character (even if it’s a red herring), include it.  If a detail does none of these things, cut it. And, yes, those are very subjective criteria, this requires judgment calls from you.

Before someone asks, there are ways to get around this. For example: multiple characters recounting the same scene give you a lot more latitude to outright omit critical information a character doesn’t understand or notice. Characters recounting past events in dialog have a lot more latitude to be outright deceptive. Again, don’t be afraid of letting your audience get a step or two ahead of the characters.

With that in mind, training scenes tend to do two things. You can write a step-by-step walkthrough of a skill involved.  Someone is being instructed, it may as well be your audience in addition to your character. This isn’t necessary, but it can help the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Most writers use their training scenes to supplement their world building. It goes back to what I just said, if you’re going to actually teach someone, might include the audience. This is (arguably) one way to naturally deliver large doses of important exposition.

So, this all loops back to a simple question: What is the scene there to do? Once you know that, you’ll know what to focus on.

Also, all of these considerations are things you want to look at when you’re rewriting the scene. Not, necessarily stuff you need to think about when you’re writing your rough draft. When you’re doing your roughs, write the scene, then clean it up or cut it on rewrite.


This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.