September 24, 2012

When POV Characters Withhold Information

Characters withholding information is a common and oftentimes important part of stories. Unless they're a fan of the villainous monologue, most antagonists like to keep their plans to themselves, which means the protags have to work to solve the problem and defeat the antag. This is good. Or sometimes a supporting character has to keep a secret because it'll hurt or shock the MC/incriminate themselves/reveal a motivation or facet about themselves they simply don't want anyone to know yet.

But what about when it's the point-of-view character keeping a secret from the reader? What if the MC discovers important information, but never actually says what the information is, forcing the reader to look at the context and hunt for clues in his/her reaction in order to figure it out? What if the MC is forced to do something shocking, but reacts only with 'OMG HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS?' but, again, doesn't explicitly state what they need to do (presumably to amp up reader anxiety and anticipation)?

What do you guys think about this story-telling technique? When, if ever, does it work for you? Is it ever believable for a point-of-view character (especially if it's in first person) to NOT reveal what they're thinking/reading/angsting about in order to serve the plot?

Here's an example that immediately comes to mind. For those who have NOT read Across the Universe by Beth Revis, I would advise you not to highlight the paragraph below b/c it contains a MAJOR PLOT SPOILER.

(Highlight to read)
In Across the Universe, Elder reveals at the end of the book that he's the one who unplugged Amy. However, the story is told alternately from his first person point of view and, despite that Amy makes no secret her intense emotional reaction to the fact she was awoken fifty years too soon and will be an old lady by the time her parents wake up, Elder never thinks about the fact that HE is responsible. He never has an "on screen" moment where he displays emotional and moral conflict about what he's done to her. Instead, he reveals it at the end, delivering what's meant to be a huge blow both to Amy and to the reader.

So, the question is, does this work for you? Does the fact the character never had an 'on screen' moment thinking about it result in him/her losing all credibility and even respect from the reader? Or is the shock value, the twist, that OMG moment, enough to validate its use?

(Note: it looks like I'm picking on AtU, but AtU is one of my favorite YA SF books ever, so I'm doing it with love :P Promise!)

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Monday! ♥

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