1. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    Can a character be unaware of something?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mad_hatter, Dec 14, 2015.

    In conjunction with my other thread about close-third perspective, I have another question about something I’ve written.

    Of course, a character can be unaware of something. But can I, the narrator, tell the reader that they are unaware of this fact? I have been transposing everything I’ve written so far, from omniscient (or what was supposed to be omniscient, turns out I was slipping into close-third more often than I’d planned!) to close third. I’ve come across a section where I’ve written that my POV character is unaware of something happening behind him. Here’s the paragraph itself:


    ***Alan looked back to Eric, who had begun to straighten up the chairs. He’d thought for some time that Eric may have had some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder; he liked perfection and order. He always tidied his own mess (if he ever made one, which was rare). And here he was, tidying somebody else’s. He lifted the chair that lay on its side upright and positioned it neatly next to the others. Alan had to smile at his son, as the disgusted look that emerged on his face told him that he’d clearly put his hands in something sticky and unpleasant. Alan continued on to the second tent, completely unaware of the fact that Eric was now staring at his hands. Blood was smeared across both palms. The fabric of the chair was saturated with blood, the light blue material soaked to a deep crimson.***


    Everything before and after this is written from Alan’s close-third perspective. I believe I’m okay talking about Eric’s actions, as I make it clear that Alan is watching him. As he turns his attention away from Eric though, at this point he can’t possibly know about the blood on Eric’s hands. I’ve attempted to remedy this by saying ‘Alan was completely unaware that…’. Is that a cheat? To my mind, it seems to read okay. Is this sort of thing common? Are we “allowed” to do this?

    Cheers!
     
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It would read fine with an omniscient narrator - but you said you're changing it all to close-third with Alan as POV character - so, no, you're not "allowed" to do that. It would be considered a POV slip and thus be confusing.

    Why do you need that line anyway? I imagine at some point Eric's gonna react to the blood and Alan's gonna find out about it - just get to that part.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    First, "allowed" is the wrong word choice. I'm going with 'should', but even that is open to choice.

    You as narrator should not 'tell' the reader, "Alan was completely unaware that…" It's bad form. Your readers are smarter than that.

    You should put this in the workshop, you will get some good advice on how to take out the filters and turn the telling into revealing:
    Alan looked back to Eric, who had begun to straighten up the chairs. He’d thought for some time that Eric may have had some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder; he liked perfection and order. He always tidied his own mess (if he ever made one, which was rare). And here he was, tidying somebody else’s. He lifted the chair that lay on its side upright and positioned it neatly next to the others. Alan had to smile at his son, as the disgusted look that emerged on his face told him that he’d clearly put his hands in something sticky and unpleasant. Alan continued on to the second tent, completely unaware of the fact that Eric was now staring at his hands. Blood was smeared across both palms. The fabric of the chair was saturated with blood, the light blue material soaked to a deep crimson.
    For example:
    Alan watched Eric straighten the chairs into perfect rows [or: placing them perfectly around the table (whatever the scene is)]
    The whole paragraph needs a similar reworking.
     
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  4. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed. This seems like an ideal candidate for the Workshop, specifically because it's not a black-and-white answer. The question isn't so much "is the POV break allowed," because anything is technically "allowed." The question is whether or not it works for readers, which is something the Workshop can tell you. And, if it doesn't, critiques will give you strategies around it, rather than just a blanket "don't do it."

    In my own opinion, I wouldn't break POV, ever, when writing close 3rd. ut close 3rd isn't 1st. There is leeway. How much to use and whether it works is more complicated than a yes-or-no. Just taking it out won't necessarily fix it, either.

    tl;dr - post it in the Workshop and let readers tell you if it works and how to fix it if not. :)
     
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  5. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I say go for it. I've used the same thing in a first person perspective. Most readers have told me it doesn't make sense, or I can't break the rules like that. To them I say, "Fuck it."

    And then one guy says, "I love the way you broke this, that was awesome!" And I find out I was doing it for him all along.
     
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  6. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Yeah, I don't want to say you can't do it, but from this limited sample it does sound a bit awkward. Although I think it's hard to give a real answer without knowing your whole story. Is the blood on Eric's hands going to be a pivot for the rest of the plot, something that changes things for everyone or swings events in a radically different direction? If it's that important it might be worth keeping, but if it's not I'd consider losing it.

    I'd say that what's more important is that if you do establish this dramatic irony, you keep it going. One way to do this would be by continuing to occasionally cut away from the close-focus POV on Alan in order to show us the effects on Eric. The worst thing of all, I think, would be to establish this tension and then never mention it again until it's revealed to Alan. If Alan's going to find out about it soon after the lines you've written above, that would be another case where I think it would be better to just lose it.
     
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  7. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    Thanks for all the input so far. Very useful!

    As it's not first (so technically I'm not inside the characters head), I feel like, as a narrator, I can not only know what he knows, but also what he doesn't. I think that the biggest problem with what I've written is that, for a brief time, I do switch to a different POV, rather than just stating that Alan doesn't know something.

    Thinking about this further, I think I can drop this. It doesn't lead to anything. Alan is about to make his own grizzly discovery in the tent. I can have him see Eric's horrified look, but think nothing of it (as he already does). He can see the blood on his son's hands a little later, as Eric comes to see what it is that Alan has found.

    Reordering it as such should remove any POV confusion.

    Thanks all!
     
  8. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    And remember, there's power in the not-knowing. He sees Eric's horrified look and doesn't know what it means, which means the reader doesn't know what it means, which means the reader can be as surprised as Alan when the reveal comes.

    Not an absolute by any stretch. But still another tool in the toolbox all the same.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my view, it's a cheat, and as a reader I would be jolted. While I feel that you can go ahead of what your POV character has consciously processed, you've gone beyond that and are providing visuals that your POV character doesn't have.

    I would be much happier, as a reader, if you made a firm POV switch from Alan to Eric, landing firmly in Eric's head, even if you're only going to be there for a moment.

    Example:

    Alan continued on to the second tent. The sight of the red drop that had fallen from one of Eric's hands nudged his consciousness, but it was lost when the banquet came into view. Roasted quail! He shouted, "Is that for me?"

    Back in the first tent, Eric stared at his hands, his heart pounding. Blood was smeared across both palms. The fabric of the chair was saturated with blood, the light blue material soaked to a deep crimson.


    And that could be the end of the time that you spend in Eric's head. But since you did migrate into Eric's head for that moment, you haven't broken the rules for your POV, and the reader is much less likely to be disoriented.
     
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  10. ILaughAtTrailers
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    ILaughAtTrailers Member

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    You can make it work. "Little did he know..."
     
  11. mad_hatter
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    mad_hatter Active Member

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    @ChickenFreak - Doesn't your suggestion essentially put it back in to being omniscient?
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see you original example, where we're getting a visual that isn't coming from any POV character, as omniscient.

    My example is, as I see it, a "head hopping" close third person scheme--we're only seeing what the POV character can see, but we're changing POV characters.

    I'm not saying that it's great to do--you're better off finding a way to get your point across while staying in the original guy's head, and it sounds like you've done so. But if you MUST communicate something that your POV character can't see, I think you're better off switching POV characters than going omniscient.
     
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