How can I keep a secret from the reader? I’m writing mystery, and I can’t let the reader know why my POV character is [insert action: searching, driving to, making a u-turn without explanation, making accusations] because then there won’t be any suspense.
Yes, I’m continuing on the Deep POV FAQ series and this isn’t an actual question from readers but I’ve said: ‘you can’t keep secrets from the reader’ so often I SHOULD be asked about it.
How Deep Point Of View Works
It’s hard to justify a point of view character keeping a secret from the reader in first person POV, but especially so in deep point of view. In Deep POV, everything the character knows, sees, hears, tastes, touches, intuits, feels, etc. should be known to the reader. (Filtered through what’s important to the character in any scene.) That’s all the reader knows, so this is limiting, but it does mean you can’t have your point of view character know something and keep that from the reader. The reader will legitimately feel cheated.
Maintaining Suspense In Deep Point Of View
First, I believe that deep point of view can be used in any genre. Some genres are more suited to being written entirely in deep point of view than others. You don’t have to write your entire novel in deep point of view. You could learn the techniques and apply them to specific scenes, characters, or even moments to add emotional punch.
Hard truth: if your plot depends on your point of view character coming to some decision or revelation which they need to hide from the reader in order to maintain suspense – that’s a weak plot and/or weak writing.
As the point of view character learns, discovers, gets confused/frustrated, makes assumptions, follows leads, intuits, acts on gut hunches – the reader is along for that ride AS IT’S HAPPENING in deep point of view. Hiding that from the reader isn’t the way to build up suspense.
Deep point of view focuses on the emotional journey. It’s not JUST about solving the crime or the mystery. Readers want to know how the journey to solve the mystery affects the point of view character. How does it change them? What do they learn? And most importantly — what does it cost them?
Write With Immediacy
One way to solve this is to remember to write with immediacy. This means writing everything as though it’s happening right now. No leaps in logic. Every thought the point of view character has is organic. What do I mean by organic? Most thoughts are triggered by something – something we see, we remember, there’s a thought trail.
Donald Maass in his book The Emotional Craft of Fiction uses a spider’s web analogy. A small tug on any part of the web causes vibrations in every other part of the web. Each thought causes a vibration in the web. Every action causes a vibration in the web. It’s all interconnected.
Something causes each thought. Each decision. What made that particular clue come to mind? What association did the character make that gave that old piece of information new meaning or importance? When the connection is made because it’s a tug on the web, that’s organic. When thoughts and actions are pulled out of the air without context or connection, that’s a GAP. GAPs are bad.
When writers ignore this, it feels like the character is leaping to conclusions and readers are left confused. Ultimately, it puts readers firmly back in the theatre seats instead of in the story (which is the goal of deep point of view). Mind the GAP!
Have you watched Netflix’s The Witcher? I loved it, but I spent most of the season completely confused. Why? Because there’s a huge gap in what the audience knows and the information the characters have and act on.
When I’m stuck, I find it helpful to work backwards. I know what information my character needs to discover or where they need to be to discover something. I start there and work backwards. What can I use, (remembering the spider’s web – it has to be organic) to get them there? What emotion? What conversation? What fear? What choice? Create a path that leads them to that point and take the reader along for the ride.
One of the ways to identify gaps is help from beta readers. Have them comment or flag areas where they don’t understand why a character is doing this or that. Why they’re now thinking this or that. That’s often a big red flag for the GAP.
Is making sure thoughts and actions are organic, and to write with immediacy, new to you? How do you identify these problems in your own writing?