1. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    Hiding details/a twist about the main character from the audience - bad idea?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Florent150, Apr 11, 2012.

    I like the idea of the characters knowing something about the main character they never let on to the audience in practice, but the only problem is, it seems kind of clunky to me.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2014
  2. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    I think if the character is unaware of the information (memory loss, suppressed memory, etc), then it may be acceptable. But if the character is hiding it? That just doesn't fit the third person limited POV and it would annoy me if I was reading it. I would feel like the author just made it up at the end but didn't want to go back and change the book. "I never mentioned that I have the secret ability to stop time and correct everything that went wrong at the beginning." So very annoying.

    I suppose if it's something that the plot does not necessarily hinge on, it might not be bad. For example, if throughout the book the MC avoids water because they are afraid of it, and they choose alternative actions based on that, it might be acceptable. Maybe at the end you could have it culminate in a final scene near water where the MC says something like "I never could be near water, and never could admit it to anyone."
     
  3. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    Yeah, annoying the reader is what seems bad.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2014
  4. Z. C. Bolger
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    Z. C. Bolger Member

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    Yeah, don't feel you can really do that with your main protagonist. If it was a secondary charter it would work fine but at the end of the book the read will end up going "What the hell? He didn't mention that before." and piss people off. I would hate to read a whole book trying to figure something out and then find out it was deliberately hidden from the character I'm supposed to have known and connected with.
     
  5. cuetip29
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    cuetip29 New Member

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    As a reader, I would probably be annoyed. If its central to the character's identity, it seems like it would come up in a concrete way (not just hints, etc.) I think it could be pulled off in a shorter work, but a novel might be pushing it.

    On the other hand, I think almost anything can be pulled off if its written well. You could paint your character as an "unreliable narrator". If he interprets everything to suit his needs, then it might make more sense if, at the end, there's this huge revelation about him. But you would still run the risk of readers being pissed lol.
     
  6. David Zlot
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    David Zlot New Member

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    I don't think this would be an easy thing to pull off but I do think it's in the realm of possibility. Say for example the main character had a daughter who died. Obviously this would be a very emotional thing for the main character but depending on his personality it may be something he doesn't thinkabout much. This could lead to a great aha moment when it is revealed if done correctly. Suddenly some of his actions would make sense, no wonder the book opened with him begrudgingly painting over the pink walls in the spare bedroom, no wonder he hated being at the carnival even though he admittedly used to love it. It would all make sense the reader would realize there were certain subjects he quickly shied away from because he's learned not to think about it.
    On the other hand if done poorly it would just seem haphazard and jarring. Imagine if you read a whole book and then at the end found out that the main character was a horse the whole time.
     
  7. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    What you have is an idea of what you want to do. The only way you will find out if it works or not; is to write it and see, okay it involves a lot of work for something that may or may-not finish up being crumpled up and thrown in the bin. Welcome to the world of the writer.

    No one is going to be able to say if this will work or not; without being able to read it. All anyone will be able to tell you is their own opinion e.g. 'Yes, I think it is a good Idea' or 'No, I don't think it will work'

    Sorry to repeat myself, but the only way you will get a satisfactory answer is through hard slog - I don't know any short cuts.

    Good luck.
     
  8. RowenaFW
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    RowenaFW Member

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    Insomnia is a sleeping disorder. You probably mean amnesia.

    Personally, I hate books with amnesia in them. They're usually very crap, badly drawn out and unconvincing, with no hints in advance as to what will be revealed.

    However, with the main character holding something back, you can easily work this into a good plot, so long as you meet certain conditions.

    1. The MC has a strong motive for hiding the information. They wouldn't dwell on it, and either don't think it's important/never really realised what it implied, or feel the need to keep it under wraps. It could be traumatic, likely to cause them damage, et cetera. However, they can't make decisions or do actions based on this information you don't know that they know.

    2. You foreshadow constantly throughout the book for this particular information, so when it comes out it "fits" and makes things come together.

    3. You demonstrate unreliability in your MC. This could be that he gives out different information to others to you seeing in his thoughtsd (he can be untrustworthy), or he is fickle, or he makes bad judgements that you as a reader from his POV can see are bad (bad judgements aboit people are the easiest: She smiled warmly. He knew she hated him). Hints that he's keeping something back from you if possible help.

    Meet these conditions and you could have a stronger and better story for it. I've read several books which do this, btw. The only ones I can think of offhand are Agatha Christies: 'Endless Night' being your best bet. She also makes use of "blanks". Episodes which he starts telling and then never progresses with, after he's started thinking things he shouldn't think.

    You can also mess with time. For example, the character describes meeting something. They then pause and go into a reverie on, "Oh, I still remember now the first time I saw her..." Since this is the first time the audience has met her, they think the narrator is talking about how. In fact, they are eliding two different incidents - the time they really met her, and this time which they are pretending is teh first time they met her.
     
  9. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Heck, I hid the twist from my lead character. I felt the overall story and message should be on a "need to know" basis.

    He didn't need to know.
     
  10. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    I'm not sure what type of a twist you refer to, so I can't really give you an advice. Some twists can be perceived as copouts by the readers "we thought the protagonist had a dilemma between sacrificing himself and letting others die, but now we know he's immortal, and therefore it's all a copout for a happy ending." Or, it could be an amazing turn of events.

    I'm trying a similar thing for my own protagonist in my new story. He's worried the people won't accept him as emparor, and he tells his father that the people will never accept "someone like us", yet I realized I actually shouldn't reveal what that means, and have the protagonist's opponents make a reference to it. That way, the readers know that everyone in the book knows the protagonist's family is "different" but they don't have a clue how for 2-3 chapters.
     
  11. Berber
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    Berber Active Member

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    You could certainly do it. However, if you don't have the adequate amount of clues for the reader to connect the dots with, it will come across as very disingenuous. Your audience will feel cheated if plain old math teacher Bob from rural Ohio suddenly professes that he's an alien from Planet X three quarters of the way through the story. That is, unless you've already made it known that aliens exist and you manage to hint at Bob's inability to integrate with his surroundings and his misunderstanding of the nuances of our culture.

    Plain and simple, there have to be signs pointing to your twist. Otherwise, no one will buy it. On the whole, I think it's an interesting idea, and I say write it. You'll never know for sure if it can work unless you do.
     
  12. W. E. Burrough
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    W. E. Burrough Member

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    I believe it depends on perspective. If it's say, first-person and the main character knows what's going on but neglects mentioning it until a much later time, It'll piss people off. Take Evernight by Claudia Gray for example, it's written in first-person perspective and the audience is led to believe the main character is just a normal human girl but halfway through the book the girl's revealed to be a vampire at a vampire school.

    My first thoughts were, "Effing, really? I know what you were trying to do and you did NOT do it right. You **at, that wasn't dramatic at all. It was just annoying." Not only was it obvious, but the reveal was so overdone I couldn't chew through it. I immediately returned the book to the library and made a mental note to never take the librarian's advice again. I then proceeded to read reviews of the book on Goodreads. And let me tell you something, I was pleased to know I wasn't the only one who thought her "big reveal" was nothing more than a huge faux pas.

    If you hide details during a third-person perspective, it's understandable. The narrator wouldn't add on something as silly as "Martina was a vampire going to vampire academy." Not only is that lame, but it's boring too. I believe a good narrator creates suspense enough to keep the reader coming back, or never leave in the first place.
     
  13. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    I've been wrestling with this exact same problem. Originally I intended to tell my story through a mix of 1st person from one character, and 3rd limited from another, but as the story formed I realised I wanted to have the 3rd character know something which I didn't want to reader to know, or the 1st character until nearer the end.

    Ultimately I decided that it would be cheating the reader, to give them access to a character's mind, but shield vital information from them, so my plan is now to use a 3rd-person cinematic narrative for the character while using the 1st person for the other. I figure I can still impart a little of what's on their mind through dialogue and body language.
     
  14. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    I've seen it done several times in published novels but I've rarely seen it done well. One of my favorite examples is Dinosaur Beach, where the protagonist is programmed to remember new things at different times in the story; for example, he starts off believing he's an average Joe in the 50s, then remembers he's something else once his job is done there. That works because it's an integral part of the story and doesn't feel like the author is trying to put one over on the reader.
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the pov character is "hiding" something from the audience then he is aware of the audience, which is why I don't think it works. The only way it won't feel frustrating, is if the character himself hasn't figured it out, for some reason.
     
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  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's not so much a matter of hiding something, but rather how and when you reveal it. Slowly, piece by piece, you let small glimpses through the veil, as tantalizing gifts to the reader, up to the point the veil is dropped completely.

    There's nothing sneaky or shady about it. It's an act of giving, not of deception. Knowing that, your attitude as the writer changes, and it shows in the writing.
     
  17. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    I agree with this. If the reader has been granted access to a character's thoughts, it is not honest to hide specific ones. If a major event or circumstance has shaped our lives, it is inconceivable that not even a glimmer of it would come to our minds until a pivotal moment when we need to tell someone else the secret.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's exactly what I meant, but then again, there's a way to get around it, but it has to be done intelligently, like Cogito described.

    For example, we don't think about all things at all times. Also, some events are designed to make us think of things that happened to us. So in fiction, it's possible to avoid showing a character thinking one specific thought, by not putting him in situations where it would seem totally unrealistic for him not to think about it.

    For example, a protagonist learned at 8 years old that she was snatched from her mother's cot, by a deranged woman who then carried on to mistreat her until one day when she learned the truth by overhearing a conversation between her "mother" and her "aunt". The protagonist ran away from home and now it's 15 years later. After a string of foster care placements, the girl is getting on with her life. The fact she was snached has to do with a greater conspiracy which will threaten her at some point in the story. It is reasonable to assume she is not thinking about this all the time, but should she notice something wrong, or that she is being stalked, or threatened, it is not reasonable to go through her pov and not specify this part of her history, in her thoughts.

    I am reading a novel in which this is a case, but the protagoniust has layers upon layers of secrets, all causing one another and 250 pages in, the author reveals "But she hasn't told them (the police) the worst part yet."
    Normally this would have bothered me, but with the writing so far, multiple POVs where this girl's pov is only 10 pages or so (so far), it is believable that there's something so awful, so sordid, that she learned to repress it over the years in order to have some semblance of normality rather than constantly feeling persecuted and so on. So she dares not even speak about it in her thoughts, for the fear of attracting it. Her generalised demeanour, anxiety, secrecy, paranoia and other awful events that seem to threaten her during the story, as things start to go wrong, sublimate this secret. So even though I don't quite know what it's going to be, I have plenty of material to speculate and I don't feel cheated whilst I feel the suspense.

    It can be done, but I think only skilled writers are able to do it well. Still, practice makes perfect :)
     

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