Topic: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

For a future book, I have a POV character who regularly meets with another character about whom he knows a big secret. Is it reasonable to limit the narration of the POV character's thoughts to exclude any mention of that secret from the reader? It's part of a plot twist, but I want to make sure it's not considered a big cheat from a reader's perspective. My hope is to write around that secret so there is no need to mention it throughout most of the book.

I did something similar in a single scene in my current book, although in that book, the POV character's scene was a very small one, so writing around the secret was easy and, I felt, totally reasonable.

Thanks
Dirk

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Ideally, on a second reading the reader will say either "I should have known" or "Oh gosh, don't you see it coming?'

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

In line with njc's thought, maybe alluding that there is a secret without explicitly mentioning it. "He knew hard times would be coming for X, but he didn't want to trouble the boy." or "There was nothing to worry about--well not nothing, but it would be a while 'til X had to deal with that."

4 (edited by dagny 2022-06-25 02:12:13)

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Dirk--
What hear you saying is you don't want to upset the reader by hiding some of the main character's thoughts. This is a technique I use all the time to keep the reader interested. For example in my short story My Origin Story, the main character has miscarried a baby while her husband is in another country. I deliberately kept that fact from the reader, only hinting that something happened that she dreaded telling her husband about and didn't reveal what it was until the very last paragraphs. Reviewers told me what they thought had happened and were surprised when it was a miscarriage. But none of them said they felt cheated.
I hope this helps,
dags smile

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

I recently asked my writer friends a very similar question because I have an MC with a big secret also. The responses I got were insightful and helped me to work out the best way to approach it. I'll summarise what they told me.

1) It is reasonable to withhold a secret from the reader if it is in keeping with the MCs character to withhold the secret. How deep is the POV? Does the MC usually share his/her thoughts with the reader? Is the secret at the forefront of their mind or is it something they suppress or ignore?

2) Be sure to leave some clues or foreshadowing so that the big reveal is satisfying for the reader, OR, if there are no clues/foreshadowing, make sure that the reveal is in line with what readers will expect from the character.

3) Have a think about what might create the most drama. If the reader is aware of the secret, could this knowledge add more tension to the story as they watch the MC trying to keep his/her secret?

Hope this helps

Serra

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Thank you, all.

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Dirk B. wrote:

For a future book, I have a POV character who regularly meets with another character about whom he knows a big secret. Is it reasonable to limit the narration of the POV character's thoughts to exclude any mention of that secret from the reader? It's part of a plot twist, but I want to make sure it's not considered a big cheat from a reader's perspective. My hope is to write around that secret so there is no need to mention it throughout most of the book.

I did something similar in a single scene in my current book, although in that book, the POV character's scene was a very small one, so writing around the secret was easy and, I felt, totally reasonable.

Thanks
Dirk

For me, this would be the writer violating the contract between the narrator and the reader. If you want the narrator and the writer to keep secrets between them for the sake of a plot twist, make them the same entity. The dear reader should know each pivotal secret the narrator knows before anyone else in the story knows it.

Memphis

8 (edited by dagny 2022-06-25 13:33:06)

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Memphis Trace wrote:

For me, this would be the writer violating the contract between the narrator and the reader. If you want the narrator and the writer to keep secrets between them for the sake of a plot twist, make them the same entity. The dear reader should know each pivotal secret the narrator knows before anyone else in the story knows it.

Memphis

IMO as a mystery writer and a reader of mysteries, I find that keeping certain thoughts from my reader is essential in keeping the reader interested. Also, writing every thought a character has would be exhausting to both writer and reader.
smile

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

dagny wrote:
Memphis Trace wrote:

For me, this would be the writer violating the contract between the narrator and the reader. If you want the narrator and the writer to keep secrets between them for the sake of a plot twist, make them the same entity. The dear reader should know each pivotal secret the narrator knows before anyone else in the story knows it.

Memphis

IMO as a mystery writer and a reader of mysteries, I find that keeping certain thoughts from my reader is essential in keeping the reader interested. Also, writing every thought a character has would be exhausting to both writer and reader.
:)

You don't write every thought. Only those thoughts that pertain to the story.

The dear reader should know what the characters are thinking at the same time the narrator knows them.

Memphis

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Memphis Trace wrote:
dagny wrote:
Memphis Trace wrote:

For me, this would be the writer violating the contract between the narrator and the reader. If you want the narrator and the writer to keep secrets between them for the sake of a plot twist, make them the same entity. The dear reader should know each pivotal secret the narrator knows before anyone else in the story knows it.

Memphis

IMO as a mystery writer and a reader of mysteries, I find that keeping certain thoughts from my reader is essential in keeping the reader interested. Also, writing every thought a character has would be exhausting to both writer and reader.
smile

You don't write every thought. Only those thoughts that pertain to the story.

The dear reader should know what the characters are thinking at the same time the narrator knows them.

Memphis

An good example to keep in mind is Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones. This secret was withheld from readers for a very long time, even beyond his death. I don't think the reader needs to know everything the narrator knows. Many stories would fall flat if this were the case.

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Serra K Deacon wrote:
Memphis Trace wrote:
dagny wrote:

IMO as a mystery writer and a reader of mysteries, I find that keeping certain thoughts from my reader is essential in keeping the reader interested. Also, writing every thought a character has would be exhausting to both writer and reader.
:)

You don't write every thought. Only those thoughts that pertain to the story.

The dear reader should know what the characters are thinking at the same time the narrator knows them.

Memphis

An good example to keep in mind is Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones. This secret was withheld from readers for a very long time, even beyond his death. I don't think the reader needs to know everything the narrator knows. Many stories would fall flat if this were the case.

If the reader didn't know Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones, how did the secret serve to heighten the suspense in the story?

That is to ask, why would the story have fallen flat when the secret was made known to the reader?

Was the narrator privy to Eddard Stark's secret?

Memphis

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

This might help, it's from an article on the website Reedsy, a writers blog:

Literary function of an unreliable narrator

Fiction that makes us question our own perceptions can be powerful. An unreliable narrator can create a lot of grey areas and blur the lines of reality, allowing us to come to our own conclusions.

Fallible storytellers can also create tension by keeping readers on their toes — wondering if there’s more under the surface, and reading between the lines to decipher what that is. Unreliable narrators can make for intriguing, complex characters: depending on the narrator’s motivation for clouding the truth, readers may also feel more compelled to keep reading to figure out why the narrator is hiding things.

Finally, all unreliable narrators are first-person: they live in the world of the story and will have an inherent bias or perhaps even an agenda. While you may find an unreliable narrator who's written in the second-person or third-person point of view, this is generally rare.

These are some examples of the unreliable narrator: A Clockwork Orange, Gone Girl (which had two unreliable narrators),The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,(the narrator was the killer), Life of Pi, and one of my personal favorites, Moriarty, a Sherlock Holmes novel written by author Anthony Horowitz.

I hope this helps,
dags smile

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

I always use third person narrators.

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Memphis Trace wrote:
Serra K Deacon wrote:
Memphis Trace wrote:

You don't write every thought. Only those thoughts that pertain to the story.

The dear reader should know what the characters are thinking at the same time the narrator knows them.

Memphis

An good example to keep in mind is Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones. This secret was withheld from readers for a very long time, even beyond his death. I don't think the reader needs to know everything the narrator knows. Many stories would fall flat if this were the case.

If the reader didn't know Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones, how did the secret serve to heighten the suspense in the story?

That is to ask, why would the story have fallen flat when the secret was made known to the reader?

Was the narrator privy to Eddard Stark's secret?

Memphis

**semi-spoiler**
Hi Memphis, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the story of Jon Snow (Eddard's secret). It's a rather complex scenario and I don't have time to do a deep dive, but to answer your question at least partly: if the reader had known the truth about Jon from the outset there would have been no revelation, no AHA moment, King Robert's pain would have meant nothing to the reader, Jon's pain would have meant nothing to the reader. We got to know Jon through his actions and interactions, freed from any titles or privilege. There is so much more that this hidden secret did to increase drama and tension, it's almost impossible to list it all here.

About falling flat, the timing of the reveal is so important. Being able to draw out tensions, drama, and mystery to an intoxicating degree and then releasing the tension at just the right moment is the stuff of skilled writers. Genres like thriller and mystery depend on this, but it's not limited to these.

But anyone familiar with this story will appreciate that a well-kept secret can be a powerful thing in a story.

Oh and the narrator is anonymous, deep third omniscient POV

15 (edited by Elspeth 2022-06-30 08:43:25)

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

dagny wrote:

This might help, it's from an article on the website Reedsy, a writers blog:

Literary function of an unreliable narrator

Fiction that makes us question our own perceptions can be powerful. An unreliable narrator can create a lot of grey areas and blur the lines of reality, allowing us to come to our own conclusions.


These are some examples of the unreliable narrator: A Clockwork Orange, Gone Girl (which had two unreliable narrators),The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,(the narrator was the killer), Life of Pi, and one of my personal favorites, Moriarty, a Sherlock Holmes novel written by author Anthony Horowitz.

I hope this helps,
dags smile

Spoiler alert!

I agree - I think you're talking about an unreliable narrator, or could be. Another unreliable narrator is Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. The first person narrator is unreliable because she's a black-out drunk, so even though she thinks she's telling the truth and all that she knows, she's aware that there are gaps in her knowledge. Another one is The Woman in the Window, by AJ Finn, who is unreliable due to mental illness.

One thing about unreliable narrator, though, is that the trope has gotten so popular, it's becoming overdone. Netflix recently released a mashup satire of these movies (suburban unreliable narrator sees murder) with Kristen Bell, called The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window.

Elspeth

Re: Hiding some of a POV character's thoughts?

Serra K Deacon wrote:
Memphis Trace wrote:
Serra K Deacon wrote:

An good example to keep in mind is Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones. This secret was withheld from readers for a very long time, even beyond his death. I don't think the reader needs to know everything the narrator knows. Many stories would fall flat if this were the case.

If the reader didn't know Eddard Stark's secret in Game of Thrones, how did the secret serve to heighten the suspense in the story?

That is to ask, why would the story have fallen flat when the secret was made known to the reader?

Was the narrator privy to Eddard Stark's secret?

Memphis

**semi-spoiler**
Hi Memphis, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the story of Jon Snow (Eddard's secret). It's a rather complex scenario and I don't have time to do a deep dive, but to answer your question at least partly: if the reader had known the truth about Jon from the outset there would have been no revelation, no AHA moment, King Robert's pain would have meant nothing to the reader, Jon's pain would have meant nothing to the reader. We got to know Jon through his actions and interactions, freed from any titles or privilege. There is so much more that this hidden secret did to increase drama and tension, it's almost impossible to list it all here.

About falling flat, the timing of the reveal is so important. Being able to draw out tensions, drama, and mystery to an intoxicating degree and then releasing the tension at just the right moment is the stuff of skilled writers. Genres like thriller and mystery depend on this, but it's not limited to these.

But anyone familiar with this story will appreciate that a well-kept secret can be a powerful thing in a story.

Oh and the narrator is anonymous, deep third omniscient POV

I'm at a loss to see how a reader being kept in the dark would have increased the tension. Did readers even know the narrator was keeping a secret?

I know nothing about Game of Thrones, but knowing that the narrator is purposely keeping me in the dark in order to have a properly timed reveal sure doesn't make me want to read the book. It would be like reading a novel about the Titanic without knowing the ship was doomed.

On the other hand, if the secret was being kept from all the characters and not from me, I suspect I would be anxious to get to the reveal.

Memphis