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When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know? : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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DrG2
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When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby DrG2 » Sat Oct 11, 2014 10:54 pm

Some writers like to tell the reader everything they know about the world, even if the main character doesn't know it.

I tend to not like that. I like to have the story revealed to me (as reader) as it is revealed to the character.

However,
With my two most-recent novels, I feel I have to inform the reader that there is a threat that the character doesn't know about (both required only 2-3 pages to be added).

If a kid is walking down a street on a windy night, hearing bushes rustle, etc., there really won't be any suspense unless the reader knows there is a werewolf on the prowl.

What do you think? When should you inform your reader about things your characters don't know?

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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby robjvargas » Sat Oct 11, 2014 11:01 pm

I'm with your general idea. If the POV character doesn't know, the reader doesn't know.

But, the POV character can feel things he or she can't identify. The "feeling of being watched," is a real thing. It's not necessarily extra-sensory. It's our subconscious picking up clues without being able to fully recognize those clues. That rustling bush, what if our subconscious realizes that there was the smallest flash of fur, but the POV character didn't consciously pick it up. Or the conscious mind convinced itself that nothing like that exists here (wherever "here" is)?

"C'mon, Rob. You're being silly. There hasn't been a wolf here for decades." Yet Rob picks up his pace.

The POV can simply suspect, while the reader, being a reader, knows better. Still suspenseful. Scary.

I think you can pull it off.
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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby pls » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:22 am

Telling the reader what the main character/narrator doesn't know decreases tension in a novel. It's like the author stepping in and speaking directly to the reader, which is a poor technique. Perhaps a secondary character can reveal what you think needs to be part of the narration.
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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:30 am


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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby pls » Sun Oct 12, 2014 12:12 pm

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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby TerryRodgers » Sun Oct 12, 2014 1:14 pm


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atwhatcost
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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby atwhatcost » Sun Oct 12, 2014 2:00 pm

In my case, the POV character didn't know the dog would spring out of the bushes, until the dog sprang out of the bushes. :lol:

But, I go with he finds out stuff, even when he doesn't understand the implications. For instance, he read a paper sent out to everyone that explains a new law, not knowing it included him. (The law said if something had only one purpose or if it wasn't made locally, it was to be thrown away to get people to buy only necessities to stimulate the economy. He read it, but didn't understand he was included, since he's a teddy bear.)

An older stuffed animal told the group that large corporations that have lobbyists were excluded. He wonders why soda and French fries are lawful, but never figures out why.

He has to be told by a friend that skateboards were unlawful, but skateboarders are willing to hide their boards, rather than scrap them.

So, he remains as naive as ever, while the reader finds out what's going on.

I took the idea from Rowling, who had a thing about Hermione reading newspapers to find out what was going on across the wizarding world, even when they didn't know from first hand experience.
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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby MookyMcD » Sun Oct 12, 2014 3:41 pm

I think (as a rule, which means with plenty of exceptions) letting the reader know something like that is bad use of omni. That's when omni can create a real wall between the reader and the story. A trickier route that can work, I think, is to give the reader clues that the POV character doesn't pick up on, like a discussion someone is having about how the mangled body was found with one red tennis shoe and the other foot missing, and then, pages later have the character start at a sound but see nothing but a red tennis shoe in the brush. But that can be a little hard (giving clues that are obvious enough a reasonably competent reader will get them but not making your POV characters such idiots you either hate them or can't buy it). So I think it becomes a question of how best to ratchet up tension, and James' distinction between a thriller and suspense novel lands right here, too. I think the best tension is when everyone is a little in the dark, and tense as hell because of it.

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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby DrG2 » Sun Oct 12, 2014 6:35 pm


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Re: When to Reveal Info Your MC doesn't know?

Postby DrG2 » Sun Oct 12, 2014 7:11 pm


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