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How to preserve twists with multiple POV?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by rktho, Jan 8, 2018.

  1. rktho

    rktho Troubadour

    My book has a lot of stuff going on. There are the main protagonists, the main antagonist, and then there are various other characters with conflicting motives. How do I clue the reader in on all their activities without giving the big surprises away?
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    I'm not sure of your situation without more detail, but two things come to mind:

    1) Dramatic irony is a good thing.

    2) Hitchcock's definition of terror might be valuable here.

    Ok, so the two go hand in hand, but I will describe each separately, starting with Hitchcock.

    Often times we want to keep things as surprises, but actually, letting the reader have a glimpse of the danger before the character does is a super valuable tension tool. Hitchcock used the example of a bomb under a table.

    Let's pretend you have a scene where four guys are playing cards at a table. They are talking about their wives and their jobs. Their kids. It is pretty boring. Not too much going on. Maybe someone is about to take someone for all their worth... then....

    BAM! A bomb explodes from under the table.

    Meh. Ok scene. The reader may wonder where the heck the bomb came from. They might be pretty confused.

    Try the scene again, but this time tell the reader (but not the character's) about the bomb.

    New scene. Camera opens up on an image of a bomb. The bomb is shown to be strapped under a card table. There are four sets of legs, almost touching it. The camera pans out and we see four guys playing cards, totally oblivious to the fact that they are inches away from a bomb only minutes from exploding. Now the reader is on the edge of their seat wonder what is going to happen? Will they discover it? Will someone come and save them? This is tension. This is what you want in your story.

    When the reader knows something the character doesn't it is called dramatic irony. It is a good thing. Use it.

    So in your case, maybe have a scene where the reader is shown the plans, but the character is not. That way the reader knows the character is in danger and will be on the edge of their seat reading every word to see what will happen.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    What Helio said. :D

    In the first book I ever finished writing, I tried keeping a big secret from the reader through the entire thing. Then I realized there was much more to be gained from revealing the secret and having the characters deal with the consequences. Plus the work required, the shuffling and dancing required to keep the secret, was more effort than it was worth. In order to keep the secret, it would have been borderline cheating.

    Any way, I'm of the mindset of if there's a secret to be kept, it better be a gosh darn good one. To me, if it's just meh, then there's no point.
  4. Hallen

    Hallen Scribe

    It depends.
    My suggestion, other than the excellent comments above, would be to show the actions to the reader, but have the characters make the wrong conclusion about the outcomes or the actions themselves. Life is perceptions. Characters often get the wrong idea about something because of the way the perceive the situation. Is the man beating on the prone woman, or is he trying desperately to get her heart started again?
    Night Gardener likes this.
  5. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    My WIP has three POV characters and several supporting characters. I have two antagonists, one main and one secondary, and neither of them are POV characters, which means if they have secrets, they aren't revealed to the reader except when they are revealed to the POV characters. So I have that kind of secrecy going for me.

    As HeliotropeHeliotrope has already mentioned, you don't always want to keep big secrets from the reader. With multiple POV characters, you can key the reader in on secrets known by only one POV character, which can lead to scenes where other POV characters are acting without the same knowledge the reader has, which can help increase the tension, along the lines of what Heliotrope described.

    Also, one of your POV characters can be of an "unreliable narrator" type, which basically means they might be lying to the reader, without intending to. They believe a lie, and have the reader believing it too. Then another POV character reveals the truth, but can the reader be sure it's the truth? Which POV character is right? Throw in a third contradictory POV, and the reader won't know what to believe. You can tell the reader the truth without the reader knowing whether to believe it! :)
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Well, I don’t know the exact scenario for a secret and surprise, but in a multi-POV one of the best tactics is to have it be a secret everyone thinks they know but which contradict each other.

    Five characters search for a lost treasure:

    Character A thinks they know that the secret location is close to but not exactly where everybody else thinks.
    Character B thinks they know the secret key to attain the treasure that will make them indispensable on this search.
    Character C thinks they’ll find a false treasure, and later they’ll come back for the real one.
    Character D plans on killing everybody and taking it for himself.
    Character E plans to signal the indigenous population of the treasure’s location on discovery so the group will be arrested and save the treasure for the people

    And of course, none of it works out right for anybody. This basic sort of formula can work for a great many things, not just something as obvious as this quickly thrown together storyline. Secrets that contradict secrets, make for greater secrets while getting things out in the open... so to speak.
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

    The short answer is simply do not tell the reader what you don't want them to know. It can take a little planning and thinking but it can be done.
  8. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    I've come to expect more from you, RussRuss. :) Isn't the OP asking for the type of planning and thinking that has to go into this?

    Q: "I'm on my bike. How do I get to the market?"

    A: "Pedal."

    Sorry, I couldn't resist. :D
    Russ likes this.
  9. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Well yes, but the planning and thinking required and very story specific. Actually my head is right into this issue because my wife faced that problem in her just completed second series book, and with hard work she solved it brilliantly. But I know so little that I really find myself unable to say anything other than, as you noticed, facile generalities.

    Q: How to I get to the store and get a good deal?

    A: Drive carefully and and comparison shop.


    Q: I am planning to buy a new Audi A4, can you tell me where the nearest dealership is and how to get a good price?

    A: The nearest dealership is Pfaff and I understand that the wiggle room they have at Canadian Audi dealerships is about 6% on price. Ask to the see the dealer invoice...etc etc

    Sorry I couldn't resist either. :LOL:
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  10. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    Everything said so far I concur with.

    I would add, that subtle details and clues/actions can be planted strategically to great effect. Again, your character(s) can misinterpret these clues/actions and their signifigance (and so can your readers). Not sure if there is a word for 'false foreshadowing'; dramatic irony I guess? But, you as the writer can mess with the characters' and reader's expectations.

    Back to Hitchcock Theory: while I try to stay away from McGuffin Plots, taking mundane circumstances and having them escalate to extraordinary circumstances by telling the audience clues the character hasn't noticed, offering the character/reader sleight of hand and misdirection, and having characters circle each other like sharks due to motives and intent- and build up to that moment so the reader understands how suspenseful the situation really is. And getting a reader to swap allegiances and sympathies, or feel deeply conflicted about which character to identify with... these tactics are sophisticated, and when done well it's something to aspire to. You can manipulate the character and audience simultaneously in the same direction, different directions, or give the reader an inkling which may or may not go the way they were expecting. Playing with those dynamics takes time ( and a lot of drafts ) to get the 'effect' you're hoping for.
  11. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I'll agree with the others, but just add that I'm personally a great fan of the MC(s) being wrong. I love reading it and I love writing it. And I especially love it when the misreading completely upends the world eg the baddie isn't the baddie anymore. It isn't easy to do, and often you have to feed misinformation to your MC(s) so he believes and plans etc accordingly. Or else have him assume things based on what he's observed / been told.

    By contrast one of the things I hate is when the goodie or the baddie seems to know things he couldn't possibly know. The best / worst example I can think of for this is Lex Luthor who so many times in whatever movie you watch or cartoon you read immediately knows Superman's weakness based purely on the fact that "he's a genius". No!

    Cheers, Greg.
  12. ^Such as in the Harry Potter series, and Jane Austen's Emma?
  13. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I hate to say it but I've seen only the first two Harry Potter movies and never read any Austen - so I guess my answer is yes absolutely!!!

    Cheers, Greg.

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