Someone else may be able to express it better. But anyway, I keep saying it in critiques, so: if your POV character knows something, I want to know it too. After all, who reads stories in order _not_ to find out what's happening? It's like watching a movie where there's dirt on the projector lens so you can't see what's happening.
There are exceptions. In a particular mystery I won't spoil by identifying, the POV character was the killer. But everything ELSE he knew, we knew (AND it was written in first person, so we didn't feel like we had a pipeline into his head). This was almost considered a dirty trick by mystery readers, anyway.
I think it's perfectly legitimate to keep secrets from the reader -- provided the POV character doesn't know them either. Then we can experience the POV character's struggle to find out, rather than our struggle to get it from the text, which reminds us we're just readers and kicks us out of the story.
I cvan't tell you how angry I would be with a mystery story, whether written in first or third person, where the POV character turned out to be the killer. I would burn the book in effigy and cry "fowl!" and you'll never show me an exception.No -- not some idiotic thing about multiple personalities that inevitably gets the details of the disorder wrong anyway. No -- not someone with repressed memories (although I've used repressed memories in other cases, and especilally if the reader knows they are struggling to remember something it can work in any genre that is not mystery.)
[This message has been edited by Christine (edited May 16, 2005).]
Use a different POV. Write the tale in omniscient or have a smarmy narrator and deliberately withhold.
The super-sleuths in mysteries are sometimes not the POV character. Perhaps it is a sidekick whose eyes we see the events unfold. This is a good way of hiding information. But a mystery is usually about leaving clues for the reader. All of the information is there, but perhaps how it is presented is subtle, or vague, or even misleading due to a character's misinterpration. Maybe the sidekick saw it, but didn't know what to make of it.
Sometimes, a POV sees something and doesn't recognize it's importance until later on, after something else occurs. This is a good way of both giving and hiding the information.
For example: A sleuth is solving a crime. He goes through the crime scene and records everything in a meticulous fashion. He isn't able to make any good guesses as to who committed the crime until he learns more about the dead person. In this case, let's say the dead guy always uses a black ink fountain pen to write checks and correspondence. But this information isn't known until later in the story, and perhaps the POV doesn't realize it's importance then. Not until he discovers a check that's written in green ink. And maybe he doesn't quite see it then, either. Perhaps he's in the middle of doing something else. He sees it (and so does the reader) but he doesn't make the connection at first. Then, he borrows Colonel Mustard's pen, forgets to give it back, puts the pen in his pocket and forgets about it. Later, at home, he finds a green stain on his shirt. He realizes it's the pen that caused it. Even later, when he's writing a check at the dry cleaners, all at once he realizes who the killer is. Everything clicked right then.
That's a fairly lame example, but it shows how you can still give information and withhold it at the same time using the POV's knowledge.
I know the mystery of which wbriggs speaks, and it was done as well as it can be done.
And it needed to be done, and done well, just so it never needed to be done again. Now any mystery editor can reject a manuscipt that does it by saying, "It's already been done in ___ ______ __ _____ _______."
When it comes to keeping secrets from the reader that the POV character knows, I do it on a very limited basis; only when the reader will almost immediately find out what the secret is.
For instance, if the POV character suddenly understands who the murder is and how she did it, I might do something like this (only less cliched):
quote:When Inspector Tain saw the bit of reddish mud on the carpet, everything clicked into place. "Of course!" he said, "I should have seen it earlier."
"Seen what, Inspector?" asked Sergeant Fowles.
"Roberta Butler is the murderer."
"But she has a perfect alibi, Inspector."
"Only because we thought the murder was committed after seven o'clock. But this bit of mud proves blah blah blah lots of explanation here."
As long as the explanation is about to come out anyway, I don't think it's necessary to explain the POV character's theory as it exists in his mind before he explains it.
Ah, but HSO, aren't you still withholding information with that example, because "..he at last knew who was the killer," takes the place of "he at last last knew that Roberta Butler was the killer." The reason it's not as eggregious to cliff-hanger it there, is because the reader only has to deal with one sentence before the chapter break. BUT in the next chapter, your POV character would be sitting on that information until he reveals it, wouldn't he?
Posts: 2022 | Registered: Jul 2003
It (murderer is POV character) was tried and published again after the above-not-named example. I remember reading the second attempt (a novel by M. M. Kaye that was actually more of a "romantic suspense" but was published as a mystery because romantic suspense wasn't selling as well as mysteries were) and realizing that a murder had happened. I think I recognized it because I had read the above-not-named mystery, and because it was not done as well.
Posts: 8523 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!
quote:BUT in the next chapter, your POV character would be sitting on that information until he reveals it, wouldn't he?
Maybe. Or maybe not. As long as you don't make them wait too long, I think it's fine. It's sort of teasing the reader, giving them just a little more time to solve the mystery for themselves before you do it for them. I think, when writing mysteries, this is perfectly legitimate. Different rules may apply for genre mysteries... I think some leeway is given, but not much.
In Mario Puzo's Omerta there is a big pov cheat.
In the early parts of the book Agent Silke spends considerable amounts of time investigating the Don's murder. Then about the 2/3 point of the book you learn that the agent who had earlier spent a lot of time pondering who murderd the don, now shows he was partially responsible for killing the don. It's a serious flip flop that placed a bad taste in an otherwise fun book.
I have seen this done several times- deep penetration into a character's POV and later you discover the character had kept secrets from you (or himself).
This works okay in a movie No Way Out is a good example. But in books it's a cheat.
The current reader preference is for total sharing of the POV's character's knowledge. If you hide something from the reader you are going against convention. That's not necessarily bad, just risky.
Elementary, my dear Survivor. It was Sarah Jane in the Conservatory with the sonic screwdriver.
[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited May 16, 2005).]
This is one of those rules that I think has been made too much into one of those hard and fast, black or white scenarios.
NO SECRETS lest thine writing hands be smitten by a plague of ineptitude!
From what I've read by many different authors, the use of withholding information is not entirely uncommon. I think the real issue is whether the reader feels suprised or cheated by the "reveal". In other words, did they expect it?
I think it's okay to withhold information from the reader so long as you've made it clear that there is infomration being withheld. It's a bit of a cheap teaser, but it can work well.
To me the major concern is to make sure you do not suprise the reader with information that any of your viewpoint characters already knew.
If the main character is the one who is in the dark, then you either tell the whole story through their eyes, or reveal what the other POV's know and watch the main character try to figure it out, or you make it clear that Bob is hiding something but not reveal it by either making sure Bob is never the POV, or making Bob's internal dialogue reveal that he is INTENTIONALLY hiding something...
For instance, Terry Brooks does this in Sword of Shannara where he makes it clear at one point that one of the lead characters is purposefully not telling the "hero" something about their quest. He doesn't say what it is he's withholding, just that knows he must let the hero find out for himself what this secret is.
Thus, WE the readers much find out for ourselves what this secret is, too.
When we finally reach that point, we knew the sword held a secret that had been untold. It was enough to know there was something more to it than what the hero understood, and Brooks fulfilled his promise by revealing that in the moment the hero came to understand it. So to me, this use of intentionally withholding information worked -- I was at least prepared for it because I knew it was being withheld.
Besides, don't we always, in some way, end up withholding information? That's part of what the story is about -- figuring out what happened or how they reached a given conclusion. It boils down to what you've promised the reader and whether you've delivered on that promise.
Now an example of a "reveal" that did not work for me -- the Village. Ugh. Ick. Ack. Gag. Give me a break. I try to imagine what that would have been like if it were a book -- and the only way I think it would work would be if it were told strictly through one POV -- that of the daughter. I love the sixth sense because it gave you everything you needed to figure it out. It didn't withhold information, it just withheld the character's realization of what the clues meant until the character actually understood it himself. But I'd say 1/2 the audience had it figured out before Bruce Willis' character did.
But the Village. I think Shyamalan tried to be tricky once too often. He has all these 'clues' that something is not normal, but cannot actually reveal what even the clues themselves are because then it would be so painfully obvious that the story would die right away. So you can never feel like you take the 'threat' seriously, but never feel quite like you know why. WHen the first real clue is revealed, it blows the lid off the whole thing and you just spend the rest of the movie waiting for this girl to finally reach modern civilization. pthththt.
BUt I digress...if the reader at least feels like the information was available for them to figure out, then I think you're okay. It's the "haha - fooled you!" ending that will have people throwing you into the fire.
I dunno...perhaps the rule should really be don't LIE to the reader.
Is it fair if all the information that was needed to work out was happening was presented to the reader, but the aim of the game is still to keep the reader wondering what is going on and then reveal it at the end?
Posts: 329 | Registered: Mar 2005
I think that's the way mysteries are supposed to be done!
But in other stories, I don't require that all the info to work out the end be present (although that can be interesting). I just insist that if the POV character knows it, so do I. There are exceptions, but when Niven did this (Ringworld), he clearly identified the exception (sort of saying to the reader: I'm breaking this rule right here for this one issue, but you won't have to flounder about anything else), and when the mystery writer I referred to did it, she did it for one particular issue (and still got flak for it). Experts break the rule in very limited ways, when they have to to achieve some goal. Newbies sometimes break it repeatedly so it feels like trying to listen to music on a stereo on which the speakers keep going silent.
The POV character holding information from the reader is cheating. I'veheard this from a lot of people, especially in conjunction with my story.
Here it is, the POV character is Ginger, who we find out at the end is an undercover DEA agent named Heather. My rationalization for this is that, while undercover she's GINGER. she's immersed herself in that role. Yes, she would have thoughts as Heather, but she's pretending to be someone else and the story is written as if she is somebody else. she's not just keeping her identity secret from the reader, but from EVERYBODY.
Were the story from another character's POV it wouldn't be that interesting. Were the undercover DEA agent aspect revealed earlier, it would into a crime drama, which it most certainly isn't.
I plan on having Heather talk to a department shrink at the end, explaining the difficulties taking on an assumed persona, and BEING that person. To let the readers know that haven't in fact been cheated, for that time she WAS GINGER.
So, you think I could get away with it?
[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited May 20, 2005).]
[This message has been edited by JOHN (edited October 02, 2006).]
This is like those stories you can tell to friends, in which remarkable things happened to you, and then you end with, "and then I reached over and pulled his leg -- just like I'm pulling yours right now!" In Nancy Kress terms, it's a broken promise: I promised to give you a story about this woman having these experiences, but what I'm actually delivering is "Surprise! Fooled you!" at the end.
Why not tell us up front that Ginger is really Heather -- and concentrate on whatever kind of story you really want to tell? If you can't do this w/o it turning into a crime story, I suggest the problem is you haven't fully created what you DO want to tell us, yet. When you do, readers will probably be happy to follow it -- at least, I thiink I would.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited May 20, 2005).]
Actually, now that I think about it, that's kinda how I want you to feel. You'll feel a lot like the male protagonist who was set up by someone he thought was his girlfriend. Someone who he trusted. Someone he had every reason to beleive who she said she was.
Now, I just have to make you mad at Ginger/Heather and not me the author...
Seriously, I think the only way that will happen if she lies to me . . . and you don't.
Sounds like the real kicker here is the male protagonist's reaction (and it does sound gripping). Make it from his point of view -- then I can _really_ feel just like he does! And drop a few hints, so that both of us can say, Lord, why didn't I notice that?
Or you could make her genuinely crazy so she doesn't know, herself. There's a movie that did that well. I won't post the title, avoiding spoilers.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited May 20, 2005).]
Ok, what if you're POV character is in a group and one of the group members is a traitor. The reader and POV character both know that there is a traitor and information is still exchanged between characters but now there is one person giving false information but no one knows who. I don't want people to figure out who the traitor is right away because that ruins the plot so do I drop hints a few chapters before the POV character and reader find out or do they just find out when it happens?
Posts: 7 | Registered: Jun 2005
If the POV character doesn't know, then there is no reason the reader should. If you did otherwise, you would be going over the head of the POV character and into the omniscient realm.
Posts: 270 | Registered: Jan 2005
If you can drop a few hints (while staying firmly in the POV character's head) without actually giving it away, that will be cool. I like it when I can't see what was going to happen, but once it does, I think, why didn't I see that?
Posts: 2830 | Registered: Dec 2004
One of my favorite tricks is deliberately revealing all the necessary clues, then either misleading the reader, by letting the main character UNDERSTANDABLY jump to the wrong conclusion, or simply just start down the wrong train of thought. Either that, or presenting the clue in such a way the reader doesn't even realize they've seen it.
There's all kinds of fun tricks you can use without withholdig information. My favorite is in the Wheel of Time books. Yes, they are flawed in many respects, but I love scenes with the Gray Men. I don't know how many times I've read those books, but it astounds me how well Jordan slips in the line " . . . a man walking in the door with a knife in his hand . . . " or something like that into the rest of a paragraph full of mundane description that you're already half-glossing over. When this assassin strikes, you realize, even YOU saw him and didn't notice him, just like the rest of the characters. It's a great little trick that just brings a little bit of the magic to life, no matter how many times I read it.
But you get the point. In a mystery story at a crime scene, instead of actually SAYING "the only clean surface in the house was the windowsill", thus alerting us that the clean windowsill is a clue, have the main character be looking for a clean surface to set their . . . I don't know . . . cup of coffee on. Describe how dirty the house is and the character's disgust at it, and the point of the clean windowsill is NOT "Okay, we're searching for clues now," it's "Dammit, where can I put my coffee, so I can get to work?" I know . . . not the best example. That's why I don't write mysteries . . . but you get the point.
Like a good magician . . . misdirection is the key. Focus the reader's attention on another aspect of the story . . . an intense conversation with another character or something, then slip the information in where it might get missed by someone in the POV charcter's situation. 9 times out of 10, the reader will be so busy identifying with that charater, they'll miss it too.
And . . . what if the reader DOES notice? Then they go "DAMN! The hero MISSED IT! When will he/she notice?" and you've legitimately built up the suspense without even meaning to.
And what if it's the kind of info that will spoil the story if the reader knows it? Then I submit that you are guilty of gimmickery. If you want to know how to do that well, read Phillip K. Dick. Other than that, you just have to take your chances.
Actually, I think it's perfectly fine for caper movies to not reveal the plan that is known to the participants. Call it a convention of the genre, if you like. But in movies we are generally not inside the characters' heads, so there's no requirement that we know what they're thinking.
Posts: 1517 | Registered: Jul 2003
Personally I find pov characters deliberately hiding things from 'heroes' to be absolutely infuriating. RJ was talking about the Terry Brooks novel and throughout his whole explanation all I could think about was The Da Vinci code (I admit, I read it). Throughout the entire book there is this big secret in one of the character's past and he makes reference to it about once a page (often from said character's pov) but it takes him 300 pages of mediocre mystery to get around to explaining it. I don't think think that my opinion of the Terry Brooks novel would be any different.
I think that if you are going to have pov characters thinking about a secret they know then just say it. If I were reading that I would probably cry "fowl." If think that if a character wants to keep a secret we should see this from another character's pov by shifty eyes, evasive dialogue, bouts of nervous shaking and the like. I think that would be far more interesting than:
Jon thought he should tell them what he knew, but now was not the time, maybe he would tell them when they were ready, in another twenty chapters perhaps.
quote:The POV character holding information from the reader is cheating. Iâ€™ve heard this from a lot of people, especially in conjunction with my story. Here it is, the POV character is Ginger, who we find out at the end is an undercover DEA agent named Heather. My rationalization for this is that, while undercover sheâ€™s GINGER. Sheâ€™s immersed herself in that role. Yes, she would have thoughts as Heather, but sheâ€™s pretending to be someone else and the story is written as if she is somebody else. Sheâ€™s not just keeping her identity secret from the reader, but from EVERYBODY. Were the story from another characterâ€™s POV it wouldnâ€™t be that interesting. Were the undercover DEA agent aspect revealed earlier, it would into a crime drama, which it most certainly isnâ€™t. I plan on having Heather talk to a department shrink at the end, explaining the difficulties taking on an assumed persona, and BEING that person. To let the readers know that havenâ€™t in fact been cheated, for that time she WAS GINGER. So, you think I could get away with it?
quote:I'd throw the book across the room. This is like those stories you can tell to friends, in which remarkable things happened to you, and then you end with, "and then I reached over and pulled his leg -- just like I'm pulling yours right now!" In Nancy Kress terms, it's a broken promise: I promised to give you a story about this woman having these experiences, but what I'm actually delivering is "Surprise! Fooled you!" at the end. Why not tell us up front that Ginger is really Heather -- and concentrate on whatever kind of story you really want to tell? If you can't do this w/o it turning into a crime story, I suggest the problem is you haven't fully created what you DO want to tell us, yet. When you do, readers will probably be happy to follow it -- at least, I thiink I would.
quote:Actually, now that I think about it, that's kinda how I want you to feel. You'll feel a lot like the male protagonist who was set up by someone he thought was his girlfriend. Someone who he trusted. Someone he had every reason to beleive who she said she was. Now, I just have to make you mad at Ginger/Heather and not me the author...
quote:Seriously, I think the only way that will happen if she lies to me . . . and you don't. Sounds like the real kicker here is the male protagonist's reaction (and it does sound gripping). Make it from his point of view -- then I can _really_ feel just like he does! And drop a few hints, so that both of us can say, Lord, why didn't I notice that? Or you could make her genuinely crazy so she doesn't know, herself. There's a movie that did that well. I won't post the title, avoiding spoilers.
I just want wbriggs and all those who critiqued my story and knew the ending and told me I couldnâ€™t get away with it, that I have in fact changed the structure of the story. Ginger is still the man focus, but the story is told from the POVâ€™s off unrelated characters (aside from her boyfriend who has a lot of POV time) and at the end will be from the POV of Heather. I just wanted to thank everyone who hounded me and saw how lazy I was being in resisting changing it. Thanks again, I think the story is better for it. Posts: 401 | Registered: Jan 2002
quote:In a particular mystery I won't spoil by identifying, the POV character was the killer. But everything ELSE he knew, we knew (AND it was written in first person, so we didn't feel like we had a pipeline into his head). This was almost considered a dirty trick by mystery readers, anyway.
I would find this intolerable, even if it was done well, because it is such a dirty trick. The only possible way this could be pulled off (so I wouldn't hate it) would be if the POV character had a multiple personality disorder and actually didn't know that he was the killer he was tracking. Hey! That's not bad... in a made-for-TV-movie way.
I think it all depends on what you, as a writer, want your relationship with the reader to be. Do you want to create a story with the reader, for them to explore and experiance. Or do you want to be a wizard of OZ, hidding behind the curtian, pulling levers. It's up to you.
Just remember that most people don't like being played with. Especially when they are being played with by someone who has all the power. And you, as the writer, have all the power. So by with-holding information your not being sneaky, or cleaver, your just abuseing your power. This may work somtimes, but what works better is telling the reader all they need to know, but doing it in a way they don't relieze they are getting everything they need to know. Then its the readers wit vs. the writers on a more equal footing, rather then the author manhandling the reader because he can.
A really good example of withheld information: Ender's Game. Caution: Spoiler!
The POV character didn't know he was actually destroying the aliens, so I didn't feel cheated. When I did learn what had happened, all the puzzle pieces and hints fell into place: of course that's what was happening! Yet, I hadn't the foggiest clue of what the truth was until I was told in the novel. Someone had even told me how it ended: the main character thinks he's running a simulation but is really commanding battles. And even after the last scene when the planet explodes, I was sitting there thinking...and when does the part come when he blows up the aliens? Yeah, I know, I'm a bright one.
Because all the plot pieces and hints were so carefully laid, and because Ender didn't know it so there wasn't a lot of fancy hand-waving to cover up the truth -- I didn't feel cheated. Didn't feel like the author was having a laugh at my expense. It turned everything into a startling, stark, "Oh -- I see it all now." And that well-done, startling revalation is what, for me, makes Ender's Game an amazing novel.
Essentially, all stories are based on the premise that we, as athors, must withold information from our readers. Therefore (especially in first person, past tense stories), the author must constantly play with the reader, anticiapting that--at this point in the story--it is stretching the relationship between reader and author too far to say "It was only then that I remembered something that Bob told me in that conversation at the beginning of the book that was essential to solving the clue." Also, in first person past, the reader knows many things about the outcome of the story simply because the main character is telling her/his experiences. The difficulty is really, therefore, not "I'm not going to keep a single secret from the reader" but "I'm going to lay the secrets in so subtely that only my sdtute readers will notice, and then I will write my story in such a way that this will only add to the feeling of tension/jeopardy at the hero's situation."
TL 601, any writer can do anything they want in a story at any time.
A writer is more likely to write a story that works for a large number of readers if that writer follows story conventions, but some writers don't want to write stories that work for a large number of readers.
One thing writers need to remember about doing things unconventionally is that they need to know what they are doing and have a good reason for doing it that way--understand the rules and be ready to suffer the consequences of breaking them.
The reason "I did it that way on purpose" is one of my pet peeves is that it is a response I have gotten when I have explained why doing it "that way" is not going to work in the story. The writer's response is basically, "I did a stupid thing for a stupid reason, and I'm not going to change even though you've given me good reasons for doing the smart thing."
If you violate point of view and make it work, that's great. The same goes for withholding information. Just be sure you know what you're doing, you are willing to have readers for whom what you are doing doesn't work be angry at you (throw the story across the room), and you have a GOOD reason for doing it anyway.
Everything that goes into a story has to have a good reason for being there. If not, the writer should get rid of it. (Paraphrased from one of my favorite rules of OSC.)
BUT...if you really like violating POV, the you shoud be writing in omnscient drifting into light penetration when needed. It takes a great deal of skill to pull off a violation and make it work. Writing should never call attention to itself unless that is the intention.
Posts: 2 | Registered: Aug 2010
I think that information revealed to the reader varies from story to story. Some stories need a bit of mystery... myself, though, I'm a tell-all writer. Anything my viewpoint characters know, I'll give to my readers.
In a fanfiction I got tremendously far in but stopped writing because I realized I'd be better devoting my time to writing I could get published, I had four viewpoint characters. One of them was a seventeen-year-old woman (medieval setting -- she was full grown in her age) who was disguised as a thief boy. I withheld that information for a while, though I planned to reveal it fairly early in the story -- but I didn't withhold it as a violation of perspective, I don't think. She didn't realize she wasn't a boy at first. She'd been through a huge trauma in her past, both magical and psychological (though mostly the latter), and she was using her surface identity as a street boy as a shield of her inner self. But there were clues... she wouldn't undress, she freaked out when she was badly wounded and refused to see a healer. It isn't something I'd do again -- it was difficult to pull off, and it only worked with that particular plot anyway. But it was rather fun.
If you've read George R.R. Martin... well, there's a plethora of things to learn from his books, but the subject of viewpoints is especially relevant to his 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series. I write viewpoints somewhat the way he does; I don't label scenes or chapters with the viewpoint character's name, but I pick a character to center on for a chapter and stick solely to that character. In his books, you know what the viewpoint characters know, but he chooses those characters well. The reader still has some figuring out to do, learning along with the characters.
Well, this is quite the conversation. For my purposes, I wonder if I might interrupt for a moment, however.
Briggs's original thought for this thread resulted from a fragment I posted in which a conversation is occurring between two unidentified speakers. I can't identify the speakers because that would give something critical in the story away. I also can't let on about everything the speakers know as that would give volumes away.
My thought was to give the reader just enough information to wonder about (a) who it was who was speaking and (b) what it was they knew but weren't revealing. Briggs was a little put off by this, I gather, but I thought it would intrigue the reader.
If you want to keep something from the reader, the best way to do it is to have a POV character who doesn't know the information. Then the character is wondering, and trying to find out, and the reader becomes involved in what the character is thinking. As a general rule, fiction is all about getting the reader to become involved with the characters.
Simply withholding information is a cheap trick, and many readers resent it. Rather than drawing them further into the story, it makes them aware of the hand of the author, and often feels like the author is smirking smugly behind the scenes (ha ha, I know something you don't know!).
I haven't read your excerpt - I'm just speaking generally.