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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Missing Critical Plot Info in [i]Speaker for the Dead[/i]

   
Author Topic: Missing Critical Plot Info in [i]Speaker for the Dead[/i]
luapc
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SPOILER ALERT! - You may not want to read this if you haven't read the novel and intend to.

I recently began reading OSC's Speaker For The Dead which I think most everyone has heard of even if they haven't read it. Just FYI, because likely most everyone knows this, but I think it bears making clear to anyone who doesn't know. The book was the second of Card's to receive both the Hugo and Nebula awards. The first of his books to receive both awards was in the previous year for Ender's Game.

I don't know why I didn't read Speaker For The Dead sooner, having read Ender's Game as well as all of the Shadow series following Bean, but I didn't. I just never got around to reading this one. I'm about half way through and realized that the book breaks a very important rule that OSC says is critical.

The rule I'm referring to is one I've seen posted here several times and brought up time and time again about keeping information from the reader that is critical to the plot. Here's a link to the thread with the most recent posts:

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/002021.html

OSC says any information critical to the plot and story should be revealed as soon as possible. I think this is sound advice, and I've never really seen a book where OSC broke this rule, until I started reading Speaker For The Dead. He hid information in Ender's Game too, but it wasn't necessary to the story or plot in my opinion, so I didn't miss it since none of the major characters would have known it either.

That was not the case, in my opinion, in Speaker For The Dead. Very early in this novel, Novinha finds out something that leads to Pipo's death at the hands of the Pequeninos. I know what this information is, since I have read other comments here and there about the book, but a first time reader may not. Now, this information is not only known by Novinha, a major character in the novel who chooses not to reveal it to any other character, but is also a major part of the plot. So major, that the story hinges on the information she knows. The thing that surprises me, is to find that OSC chose to hide important and vital information a character knows, especially since he says it's important not to.

Three things come to mind. First, is that OSC may have come to understand this rule after writing this novel. The second thought is from another of his rules: The only real rule is: You can break any rule, as long as you're willing to pay the price. My final thought is that the story might be considered a mystery, and therefore has different rules.

I do consider his advice about not keeping important information secret a good one to follow, but it seems to me that if a story can be both a Hugo and Nebula winner and still do this sort of thing, then the rule may not be so important. Whenever I do this in a story, some critiques invariably bring up that they wanted to know something I chose not to reveal. It seems to me that some of these critiquers may be too critical, especially in light of what is done in Speaker For The Dead.

I know this topic has been posted time after time, but I thought that it bore posting this because it refers to such a popular and good book that was written by OSC himself, and I wanted to see what some other authors think about why it works in this book, but might not in others.

Sorry for the long post. It didn't seem so long when I wrote it!

[This message has been edited by luapc (edited February 04, 2006).]


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Matt Lust
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NO NO NO


NO NO NO NO NO NO NO


Its not false suspense.


The reader knows all the character(s) do. Novinha only does the piggies killed and that it has "something" to do with what she was working on with the descolada.


She DOES NOT and I repeat does not know what it is about the descolada that Pepo saw.


Therefore it is not the violation you seem to think it is.


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luapc
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I understand what you're saying Matt, but that's not how I read the story.

It was clear to me from what was writen that whatever Pipo saw in the information was so obvious that Novinha would have no problem figuring it out. Pipo even says that Novinha will see it, and it also seems clear that she thinks that she knows what the secret is throughout most of the book as far as I've read (about half way). The reader has no hint at the connection between the Descolada and the Piggies. All the reader knows is there is a secret Novinha has about the piggies that she is withholding and that secret is not revealed to the reader. That's all I'm pointing out, and that it seems implied, if not stated, that Novinha knows what it is and what it means, even though she may be wrong. Besides, she's not stupid and has been working with it for years at the halfway point of the book. Common sense made me believe that she should have figured it out by then if she hadn't already. Pipo thought she would.

I knew this was going to be strongly disagreed with, but to me, this is the way I read the book. Perhaps I read more into it than most people would. It's very possible that most readers wouldn't read the same implications into the story that I did. I don't know. My point is, that a story can still withhold information and be a good book and a great read. I like the story, it's just that I noticed this and wondered why it worked. Like I said, I could be wrong.


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Jeraliey
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As I recall, Novinha wasn't a POV character at any point in the book. If indeed she wasn't, it doesn't break the rule, whether she knows vital information or not. It's not cheating for one character to withhold information from another; it's cheating for the POV CHARACTER to withhold information from the READER.
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Matt Lust
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What I think you're missing is the very very mindsets that Novinha and Pipo had towards the planent.

Xenador (sp?)

vs

Xenobiologist

Its very very ancient rivalry (Anthropologists vs Biologists) and OSC makes note of it in Speaker.


Xenadors are social scientists, more philosophers than lab techs.

Xenobiologists are molecular and genetic biologists who are focus on the basics.


Don't forget that Novinha had not actually been to see the piggies so she didn't have the same access to information. And NO second hand information means nothing when it comes to doing field work.

Trust me it doesn't help to have some one tell you about a community, if you want to truly understand something you must experience it.

All Novinha had was "cold" facts and lines of text. This pales in comparison to Pipo's experience.


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Survivor
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Well...Novinha already easily qualifies as the dumbest smart person in the Enderverse, and possibly in anything that Card has ever written. She's incredibly naive about Catholic theosophy, despite the fact that her parents are both saints.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER AND DON'T KEEP TRYING TO READ THE THREAD IF YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT SPOILERS!

And let's face it, she isn't a zenador. She doesn't know that much about the whole thing with "Fathertrees" and how the piggies claim that a specific tree is actually the continuation of the life of a specific piggy the humans believe dead. Even Miro and Ouanda have no idea that these stories are literally true, because they've never seen the genetic data.

And Novinha doesn't talk about xenology with anyone. All those years she was carrying on a clandestine affair with Libo, it was specifically to avoid ever having to tell him. She doesn't talk to her own son about his work. She deliberately places herself in a position of total ignorance about the facts she would need to know in order to put the peices together.

You can't blame her for not figuring it out anymore than you can blame Miro and Ouanda, who've been talking to the piggies and trying to figure out what they mean by saying that a tree named Rooter is their father and all that. You can blame her for deliberately keeping apart the two peices of the puzzle, but not for needing to have both peices if she was going to figure it out.

What Pipo saw was that it wasn't impossible that the piggies were telling the simple truth. But he's the one the piggies had been talking to about these things, not Novinha. And we all know the specific secret Novinha is hiding, that the genetic information of the piggies contains all the vital segments of the genetic information of the trees. It's revealed right up front.

lupac, the simple truth is that you didn't read the book carefully if you missed that. And you didn't read the book at all if you didn't figure out that one of Novinha's most outstanding gifts is her ability to be totally immune to reason. She's very good at refusing to see things she doesn't want to know.


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rickfisher
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Matt's right, if a bit overemphatic. Novinha doesn't go back and look at all the data. She just locks it up. Her goal is to keep Pipo's son (whom she loves) from ever seeing it, for fear he will figure it out, resulting in his death as well. In any case, in the middle of the book we're not in Novinha's POV, so even if she HAD figured it out, the reader wouldn't know. (Are there any sections from Novinha's POV in the middle of the book? I don't remember them, but even if there are, it's quite reasonable that, after so many years, thoughts of what she'd figured out would probably not be present. Anyway, that's moot; she doesn't know.)

Here's the thing: it has nothing to do with how major the character is who knows the important information. It has to do with whether the reader has access to that character's knowledge. It's all POV. That's why it's possible to write mysteries. The murderer is a major character who knows who did it--but the reader is rarely in his/her POV. On the occasions when an author experiments and tries to make the murderer a POV character, it usually fails and requires exactly the kind of information hiding that Card is talking about. I've come across exceptions, but they are rare and require some sort of unusual circumstance/handling to succeed.

Ah, I see Jeraliey anticipated some of this (simulpost). But I'm not going to bother editing it. If I take the time out to do that, somebody else will post ahead of me, too.

[Edit] Well, heck, two other posts got in there anyway. But I'm still not going to edit this. Well, except for this comment.[/Edit]

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited February 04, 2006).]


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Matt Lust
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I don't what's scarier


That we thought like survivor or survivor though like us?


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luapc
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quote:
lupac, the simple truth is that you didn't read the book carefully if you missed that. And you didn't read the book at all if you didn't figure out that one of Novinha's most outstanding gifts is her ability to be totally immune to reason. She's very good at refusing to see things she doesn't want to know.

Actually, I did read the story carefully, and I did get everything about the Novinha character as presented. Now that I think about it, I think the problem I had with the story wasn't that there is missing information, as much as I expected Novinha to figure it out. Basically, I didn't find her character as believable being as totally inept as almost everyone else seems to have, and that being the case, got a preconcieved idea that I should have been told more as a reader.

Anyway, thanks everyone for the comments. I guess not everyone reads a story the same way, or gets the same thing out of it.


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wbriggs
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I don't remember, and I lent my copy. As I remember, Novinha believed Pipo had died because of something the data told him; Libo might find out the same thing; so she hides the data. I don't think she knows something that we don't at that point, although I'm not sure.

She was the POV character at the time.

But suppose she did know, and OSC didn't tell us. Being who he is, there is *no way* he'd lie to us about it, but he might say, "Suddenly she knew exactly why Pipo had died." Not telling us what she knew, but telling us then and there, I'm breaking this rule.

You can certainly get by with it occasionally.

And then, I think, we'd be kicked out of her POV to some degree; and we'd no longer trust OSC to tell us what's known in the moment (if that matters). There's the cost. Then again, Novinha was so repulsive to me that I was never really in her POV, even though the book was at that point.


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apeiron
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quote:
Novinha was so repulsive to me that I was never really in her POV, even though the book was at that point.

Gah, I loathed Novinha. And not in the way you should loathe a character--it was in the way that you want a character to get the heck out of your book. When she was a child and Ender realized that by the time he got to Lusitania (sp?), she would be grown up, I immediately thought she'd make a great love interest for him. But the person she turned out to be made me pity Ender, and in some ways dislike him, for marrying her. For cripes sake, he literally died of boredom!!

I know this has nothing to do with the original thread. I just had to get that out of my system. It's been niggling me for many years. Phew.


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Matt Lust
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But did he die of boredom? or was it love that was the fatal strain?

He loved so much that he gave himself for her (perhaps and the rest of humanity.)


Not that OSC meant the allegory but hey its there.


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ethersong
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Lol...I'm rather glad I saw this thread. I have two novels in process right now and in both of them I withold information from the reader in order to build suspense. However, they are both in first person and they main character doesn't know. So that makes it alright, right? In one of the stories, the second main character knows the information but the POV is never with him. is that still alright? For the other story, the secret information is one of the big turning points of the novel, so I think its essential that i withold it from the reader.

I'm new to the forum so sorry if this has all already been answered somewhere.


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Matt Lust
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For more in depth answers look to the link lupac included in his OP.


Other than that.....it really depends.


I think its okay as long as the reader knows the truth even if the MC(s) don't.

For a pretty good example of this take a look at GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire. I think he does a good job of showing character's ignorance of the real story but using the very real fact that distances are fast and there is the fog of war.



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Survivor
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I think that Noviha serves to call attention to Ender's total empathy. She isn't lovable, there doesn't seem to be anything good about this woman. But nonetheless, Ender finds good in her, and the goodness he finds in her is no less than the goodness of everyone else. He understands that he isn't a mismatch for her, he too is a weak and fallible human.

Certainly, that's reading something into it, but I don't think it's an accident that Card made Quara...Quara, in the later books.

I'm not anything like Ender, and I don't subscribe to the philosophy Card presents. To me, if a person wants to be "that way", then that is a matter of free will and the question ends there. I don't go around pulling off masks just to confirm some theory that everyone is good on the inside. But I respect the depth of his portrayal of that level of empathy.

The tension between respect for moral agency and unconditional love is a real theosophical paradox, from most perspectives. I resolve it by regarding respect for an individual's right of self-determination to be the ultimate expression of love. Ultimately, if you want to be the bad guy in my story, I respect that decision and treat you as the bad guy. But that isn't the only way to think about it.


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AstroStewart
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quote:
I don't go around pulling off masks just to confirm some theory that everyone is good on the inside.

Is that really what you took out of Speaker for the Dead? When Ender speaks the death of Marcao it didn't make me stop hating the character as being "evil" on the inside. It just put his actions in context. Even people who do evil things have their reasons for doing them, but those reasons don't make them "good on the inside," in my mind at least, it just gives some level of explanation for why they did them, as very few people think of themselves as "evil."

As far as keeping information from the reader, the only time we were in Novinha's POV she did NOT know the big secret that got Pipo killed, so there was no violation. I do, however, remember feeling irked when we pop into Jane's POV for a chapter (after Ender turned off the jewel in his ear for a short time) and SHE discovers the "big secret" that was the cause of Pipo and Libo's death. At that time it very clearly said something like "and then she understood why the piggies killed Pipo" but it doesn't tell us what this reason is. That witholding of information was slightly annoying at the time, but in suit with the rule that you can break any rule you want, I think the way it was pulled off was worth the risks.

I think the reason it worked was that, even though we were briefly in Jane's POV, I *always* think of Ender as being the "real" POV for Speaker for the Dead. Jane witheld that information from Ender, so it was ok to be told about Jane discovering the secret and chosing to keep that information from Ender, just as it's ok to keep information a secret from a non-POV character. In essence, in Speaker, even though we popped into a few other POVs from time to time, the main character we're meant to identify with (I thought anwyay) was Ender, so it made more sense to only discover the "big secret" when Ender finally figures it out, instead of having the surprised spoiled by the Jane-POV intermission.


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Survivor
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What did Marcao do that was so bad? I was talking about Novinha. After all, everything that Marcao did was acting out Novinha's selfish script for her own life.

Sure, a fool and a pawn, but I don't hate that.

Good point about Jane, and that isn't the only withholding game that uses her viewpoint. When she starts doing certain things, there isn't any explanation of why she would do things that would seem to put Ender and Lusitania in grave danger from several perspectives. We also get the explicit mention of dangers which are not her doing but which she doesn't do anything about, when all she'd have to do would be to at least warn Ender.


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wbriggs
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ethersong, AFAIK, you're not breaking any rules the way you describe it. (Of course, you could break the rules if you wanted, but with cost.)

OSC warned me against over-reliance on surprise, but I still like to say, at the end of the book, "I never saw that coming -- and I should have!"


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AstroStewart
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Maybe hate is too strong a word for Marcao, but despite what Ender revealed about the reasons for his actions, I guess I'm just an unforgiving kind of guy. He made his entire family miserable. He beat his wife. He screamed at his kids simply because they weren't actually his, through no fault of their own. If he didn't want to be in the "pretend to have a family with me" situation Novinha offered him, he didn't have to, but knowing all the secrets doesn't justify all his bad behavior in my eyes, and it certainly doesn't make him "good on the inside" in my eyes at least.

Was that a lesson Speaker for the Dead was trying to teach? Cuz if so I guess I missed it


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Survivor
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Everyone screams at their kids. I can't even keep from screaming at other people's kids (and barking at their dogs, hissing at their cats, etc.). He didn't beat them or even once try to kill any of them, so that makes him pretty okay in my book.

So that brings us down to hitting Novinha, who frankly felt it wasn't punishment enough for what Marcao knew she was doing.

How about Miro, who first rejoiced in his father's death and then wanted to do his own sister, or Gregor, who tried to kill Ender the first time he met him? Without even knowing that Ender was the Xenocide, no less.

I'm sorry, I just don't see how Marcao even rates a mention in the list of sinners here. Maybe he's not Ela, but how many people are?


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AstroStewart
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Forgive me if I'm completely missing the point you were trying to make, but:
quote:
So that brings us down to hitting Novinha, who frankly felt it wasn't punishment enough for what Marcao knew she was doing.

Are you arguing that someone who physically abuses his wife is an ok person as long as the wife feels that she deserves it? Isn't it psychologically "normal" for battered women to feel they somehow "deserve" the beatings they get, like it's always their fault?

Even in this case where Novinha being unfaithful to him, having children with another man, that was the entire "deal" of their marriage to begin with. If he didn't want to live in such a state, he didn't have to. Even in that extreme situation I don't see it as an excuse to physically abuse your wife and psychologically abuse your children (or even the bastard children of your wife and her lover, who you agreed from the very beginning of your relationship you would treat as your own). This kind of person is by no means "good on the inside" in my book. But then I guess "good" and "bad" are in the eye of the beholder.

As for the others you mentioned:
Miro - yes, he rejoyced when his father died. All of his siblings (except Grego) did too. But it's not like he actually was the one who killed his father or something. I don't find it such a horrible crime to be glad at the death of such a tyrannical presence in his life. As for wanting to do his sister, he didn't know she was his sister. He had already fallen in love with her by the time they found out. If anything I feel sorry for him.

As for Grego, he's just a child, doing his best to imitate the violent nature of his father. Monkey see monkey do - not that I'm any expert on parenting but a little boy trying to imitate his father until being disciplined and instructed not to do so doesn't rank very high in my "list of sinners." If he grew up to be equally violent that's another story.

Anyway, everyone has their own opinion and these are just mine. Sorry for the random tangent, I just didn't have the self control to not comment after your last reply


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apeiron
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I'd like to point out that it wasn't exactly like Marcao had a choice in the situation. In their community, it was his job to get married and have children. He was known as a freak and being with Novinha was his only way to escape that role. Being pitied was better, but not by a far cry. Try being in a relationship in which you know there is no love, and the person you should, by right as her husband, feel love from is sharing that with someone else, and all the while you know that you will never know that feeling. And sitting around your house eating your food and enjoying your good graces are the physical manifestations of that fact.

Not saying what he did was right, just saying he wasn't as willing a participant in that marriage farce as he's being portrayed as.


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Survivor
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Okay, let's cool off and look at the argument I was making here. Miro and Grego (and others) both did things that could easily be considered monstrous. Yet you don't hate them for it. You accept the excuses made in the text. Miro gives his own excuses, and they're kind of pathetic, from my point of view. I could explain my point of view, but that would be too much information.

Why is Marcao different? Because he's not as intelligent? Because he's not a POV character? Because hitting a woman who is not your wife is so much worse than any other crime? An important point, that. Marcao isn't a man beating his sexual partner. He's a eunuch striking his owner. Does that change your view of him?

It doesn't matter. The point is that you found it easy enough to forgive Miro and Grego their sins.

I'm not in the business of forgiving sins. Logic dictates that I act based on what I believe a person will do in the future, not what that person has done in the past. To that extent, I make an effort to forgive people their past trespasses against myself. These trespasses sometimes involve sin, but just as often they don't, or at least not any really serious sin. In any case, I have difficulty regarding the sin itself as being any of my business, either to forgive it or not.

But that's all a side issue. The main point is that Speaker for the Dead is all about empathy and understanding. I don't buy into that message as a life philosophy, but I have to appreciate it in order to read the book. Marcao is a central figure in the transformative journey from stranger to self. If you don't accept Ender's speaking for him, then you're missing out on a huge chunk of the book's power.


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krazykiter
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Haven't read the book yet, but I might throw in my general $0.02 anyway:

As several folks have pointed out, you can break any rule in writing, as long as you're willing to pay the price.

But I've seen a lot of confusion here over what "hiding something from the reader" means, especially in first 13 postings.

In general, the writer does need to let the readers know what the POV characters know as they become aware of it. That said, it is entirely possible the *character* doesn't have accurate or complete information. Also, the information doesn't have to be conveyed to the reader in a blazingly obvious way. There could be an innocuous detail in the description of a room that later takes on great significance.

Will makes a good point that it is possible to not let your readers know something, but making it very obvious you're doing it. Stephen R. Donaldson did a masterful job of this in "The Real Story." In the first chapter he relates the events the denizens of a space station see as his main characters interact. But throughout, he drops hints such as "Most of the crowd...had no idea what was really going on," and "Only a few people knew there was more to it," in the first paragraph. The first chapter ends with "That, of course, was not the real story."

In Chapter 2, he re-tells the story in such a way that you think you're starting to get all the missing detail, and you are - to a point. Chapter 2 ends: "The crowd at Mallory's would have found the real story much harder to live with."

Beginning in Chapter 3, Donaldson finally starts telling us the story from his main characers' POV.

Chapter 1 is written from the perspective of casual travelers at the station. Chapter 2 comes from the perspective of wiser heads who knew who to ask, what to ask and how to ask it to get behind what everyone saw. Chapter 3 is where we hear the tale from the main characters' POV.

It's the only time I've ever seen this pulled off in print. It's not so much hiding information as it is letting the reader see the same series of events several times from slightly different perspectives, adding more detail each time. It works because the "real story" is about how the main characters change roles from victim to villain to rescuer as the narrative unfolds.

Finally (at the risk of making this even more long-winded) it isn't necessary to launch into a complete dissertation on an unfamiliar object as soon as it is introduced. Just give us enough to hang our hats on so we aren't wondering "what is ______ ?" and move on. We can get the details as they become necessary.

I'll get off the soapbox now.


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franc li
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I don't like Grego.

It's hard to know if there is a difference between "Everyone has some good in them" and "Everyone has some bad in them." I believe both, but there are people that I don't feel the need to dig out the good. Actually, I don't know anyone, including myself, that I feel a need to dig out the good.

I took a job-related psych eval recently that had "everyone has some good in them" as an agree or disagree statement.

The message I always perceived from the book is that you can't know what someone's intent is, no matter how monstrous their behavior. And if you want to talk about someone we should hate, it would be Pipo who even though he supposedly knew the secret let his squeamishness set the whole rest of the chain of events in motion. If he knew and understood the passage to the next life (and if you are still reading, I don't imagine that will make any sense to you but I have no pity for spoiler babies) why wouldn't he be willing to do it rather than have it done to him? But again, maybe I'm incorrectly perceiving what Pipo knew.

As for Marcao... he did what he did when he got drunk. But he chose to get drunk, I guess. Where do we come down on that?


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Pipo knew that the piggies had to metamorphize into the tree in order to reproduce, and he understood that it was a high honor to them. But he didn't believe that the trees were still sentient, that it was anything more than a biological transmission of genetic material.

After all, does semen contain any of the personality or intelligence of the man that produces it? I'm sure that primitive societies believed this was the case in some way, how else do you rationalize (not simply explain) such practices as hereditary rulership? But modern science has come to regard this position as somewhat dubious. I'm sure that Pipo intellectuallized his reluctance at least somewhat, and his reasoning was sound, given what he believed. Libo also must have had the meaning of the ceremony explained to him, and I'm sure (being a Zenador) he would have discreetly ascertained that there was a biological basis for the claim that this was the means by which the piggies reproduced.

He made the same choice, though perhaps he had the additional motive of feeling that this would somehow expiate his guilt over his adultery. Perhaps he simply couldn't bear to face the fact that he'd finally found out Novinha's great secret, the thing she'd destroyed her life over. How could he face her and reveal that everything she'd done to herself was for nothing? I'm sure that a desire to emulate and validate his father's decision also played into it. So he had a lot of different reasons to do it, unlike Pipo. So what? I think that Pipo's motives were more pure, when you come down to it.

Of course, that's the same thing as saying that Pipo was being more naive and stupid.


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