We interrupt this NaNo…

Agh, this is driving me crazy. I have a story that is essentially an unfolding mystery where clues must dropped, and certain characters must speak and act cryptically so as not to give the answer away to the reader. But I am writing a novel from a third-person subjective point of view, which means every scene is written from inside one character’s head or another.

There are some scenes I need to write to give clues to the reader in which the participants in the scene just know too much.

It makes no sense that you, the reader, are in their head, and they are just conveniently not thinking about certain things I don’t want the reader to know yet. But I either have to write elliptically like that, or I have to write the scene from the POV of some random nobody who is also present. But if I do that, the reader might think this random character and their trivialities are important when they aren’t. The third option is to just leave the scene out, in which case part of the story just isn’t getting told.

Now am I wrong to think it’s the sign of an amateur to write elliptically, scene after scene of characters “just not thinking” things I don’t want the reader to know?

If this were TV, where everything is pretty much done from an external POV, you can have multiple scenes with cryptic characters with secrets. X-Files, for example, thrived on those “mysterious Deep Throat/Mr. X is mysterious” scenes, or the darkened hotel room where the stone-faced Consortium sat around talking about the Conspiracy.

Those sorts of scenes are frustrating for viewers, but they also make them want to piece together the clues and anticipate revelation of the answers.

My Trickster/Guide character has just fizzled into nothing, for example, because I’ve had to chop away at the things he knows one by one until he doesn’t know enough to be a guide at all, just because he is one of the central characters and we have to be in his head once in a while. There was a whole scene that was to take place from his POV where you learned of many of his feelings for the other characters, and I had to rewrite the whole thing from someone else’s POV instead because it made no sense for him to act certain ways and not have the reader privy to why he was acting that way because he was acting on knowledge I don’t want the reader to have yet.

I can’t think of a solution to this, but it is starting to seriously compound, the further I get into the story.

15 thoughts on “We interrupt this NaNo…

  1. Yep, this is what too many points of view will get you. In my novel I had too many points of view (which is part of the reason it was way too long). Some of them were fairly fleeing and it was necessary to let two of the three major points of view go dark for a time, so that tension could build up with the reader not really knowing what was going on. It even had a chapter where the two people in an important discussion were known, but I purposely avoided revealing who was saying what to confuse the reader about who was the one really upset about things. (I intended that the reader would want to flip back and reread that chapter when things were becoming clear.)

  2. Unreliable narrators? That way, you can get inside the characters’ heads, but they may not see the facts in the same way that others would. They may dismiss the facts. Put positive spins on them. Minimize the important stuff, and maximize the unimportant. They can completely misinterpret what the facts mean. They can decide that Problem X will keep for a while (even if it won’t)–or will HAVE to keep for a while (even if it won’t) as they go and deal with Problems Y and Z. They can have blind spots about certain aspects or certain problems. Or they can completely miss a problem that is sitting right in front of them.
    All of which can mess with the information they’re communicating to the reader. And the best part? The characters don’t have to be ignorant for any of this to happen. They just have to be people–confused, biased people who DON’T necessarily understand their feelings that well (or who don’t want to talk about them, or who don’t want to discuss this or that aspect of a problem because it reminds them something unpleasant that they hate or fear).

  3. I can’t make ALL of the characters-who-know-too-much unreliable, though. And they’re still going to give too much away with their misunderstandings as well.
    I could do this to a few of them, but the guide character wouldn’t be much of a guide if he was heavily misinformed.

  4. The difficulty is, even if I limit the story to only three POVs, I still need to show scenes where none of those three people is present. How do I do that? Omniscient POV is so awkward, and jarring in a novel full of third-person subjective.

  5. No, you can’t do it to the guide character. Maybe, in his case, you need to have him try to BE the guide. Just because he’s doing his best to guide doesn’t mean that people will listen. They could decide that he was wrong. Or that he’s attempting to deceive them because he thinks that kind of a joke would be funny. Or put their own spins on what the Trickster-Guide REALLY means.
    I imagine he’d find that pretty frustrating, but then, that might give you more conflict.

  6. Problem is, guide character is one my three POV characters. And I am coming to the conclusion I can’t keep him that way. Because the more ignorant I make him so he won’t reveal anything, the more he resembles another character who he’s supposed to be guiding.

  7. Well, you’d have to have some omniscient POV in the mix all along or it would seem very awkward. Is it necessary, that everything come from the characters’ POVs? (I keep wanting to write PsOV.) I understand that that could be the case.

  8. Well, that’s just my personal style, so *every* scene is from *somebody’s* POV.So like you say, in order to lapse into omniscient when I don’t want to give away information, I’d have to lace omniscient through out the novel, even where it’s not required.

  9. Maybe this is strange/wrong, but just because a character knows/believes something, it doesn’t necessarily turn out to be true. In RL you usually don’t have all the information you need and then you find out later (my friend wasn’t mad at me, she was worried about her operation, but she didn’t let me in on the secret until later, maybe because she was too sick to think of it at the time or she doesn’t communicate well). So just because a character sees a scene or talks about it, 1) s/he may not have all the information themselves and are just reporting/remembering their version 2) s/he may be remembering wrong or missing certain details from the scene that were there at the time but the character doesn’t have photographic memory. Especially if they were focused on other areas of the scene or it was intense or there was a lot going on.

  10. I changed the placing of the comments so it will be easier to read.
    Also, if it was a really bad/terrible/painful scene, the character may actively be repressing it. Also, if a lot of time has gone by, the memory has probably become less clear. Also, if the person has spent a lot of time thinking about this particular memory, they may have altered it themselves on purpose or accidently.

  11. Also, people aren’t perfect communicators. I know I am always going after the fact: oh, I should have said THIS or I should have said this INSTEAD. I had a friend who thought I was mad at her because I never went to see her, but I was busy with medical issues that I couldn’t talk about and I had a baby who didn’t sleep, so I was just plain exhausted. And since I didn’t tell her the beginning, then it just dragged on and on and got worse and worse, but luckily, I finally got to the point where I could tell her the whole story. I had just been reassuring her all the time that I did want to come, but I was just really tired and I did tell her about the baby (and noone seems to undersand a non-sleeping baby except someone who has had one) so that was true too but only part of it. So, maybe 2 years after the fact, she got the whole story. And it turned out to be completely different than what she thought, and looking back, I wish I had done it differently but I don’t see how I could have at the time (no sleeping = brain not working).

  12. For a really famous example, in Harry Potter (well, gee, probably in several places since it seemed to be a major method throughout the books): we follow Harry around and go where he goes and see what he sees. But he doesn’t always have all the facts (there’s a lot of background story, for example about his father and his time at school, that Harry discovers little by little). Harry is there present for most of the scenes, but he gets a lot of things/interpretations wrong either because 1) he is inexperienced being only 10 in the first book 2) he is unfamiliar with the wizarding world 3) he can’t possibly know all the background and thus motivations for the other characters 4) he is in a hurry or in danger. Also, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are present for many of the same scenes and interpret them differently (thus the endless conversations they have while they are trying to put the clues together). In most (every?) book, Harry goes arond trying to prove that Snape is the bad guy and working to bring Lord Voldemore or his rule/ideas back. Snape does things that seem to support this idea, but many times, it is Harry not having all the information about what is going on (and not being able to imagine a different explanation for events than the first one/one that he believes in so hard). So at the end of every book, we find out what was really going on, usually as Dumbeldore explains more and more to Harry.

  13. Also, (can you tell I am avoiding starting work???), your characters are telling THEIR story. It is what they lived/experienced/saw. It is what happened to THEM. The story may not necessarily be true or even what other people experienced. And the story is clouded/colored/obfusticated based on the person who is doing the experiencing; on their memories, experiences, feelings, past history, physical level of wellness, how present in the moment they are, what things they are worryng about which are distracting them. 10 people and 10 different versions of events.
    “I was standing at the Christmas party, I remember because it was snowing heavily and there was a fire in the fireplace warming my back, and I was talking to Suzy about breeding Iguanas when Mary walked in.” But what if it was really Mary who was talking and Suzy who walked in, thus giving Suzy the chance to run around to the kitchen and put the poison in the Vodka? And half the people swear it was Suzy who was standing by the fireplace talking, and the other half say it was Mary. And Mary herself says she was talking to Joe by the window; it was about the new Ford she just bough, and Suzy says she doesn’t remember being in the kitchen that night (either because she is lying or because she was so stressed out over losing her job and that’s why she is trying to do in her boss at the party or she drank half the Vodka before she put in the poison).

  14. Joe, trying to be important, get attention, and start rumors says: Billy spent the night at Bob’s house while his wife Sally was out of town. But how does Joe know? Did Frank, Billy, Bob or Sally tell him? Was the reporter there? How reliable is the reporter? Did Joe or the reporter look out the kitchen window all night? Did he use a video recorder? And why was Billy there? Was it a Poker party, a Bible Study, a Buffy watching marathon, a rebuild the carburetor party, a sick kid, a stolen moment?

  15. You have one of the characters who was there talk about the scene to someone else later (or read it in a newspaper or….). OR you just have the scene happen as a seperate entity and the characters find out about it later (the gold they found turns out to have National Bank stamped all over it and there’s a dead thief lying in the middle of it who escaped from Impossible Penitentiary which was a big story in the papers last month).

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