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Thread: When Should I Show The Character's Real Motives to the Reader?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    When Should I Show The Character's Real Motives to the Reader?

    So basically in my Fantasy WIP, a young temple acolyte is tasked with tracking down sacred objects and bring them back to her temple for them to be purified and quarantined. The empire sends two bodyguards to protect her. But they all have ulterior motives. The acolyte wants to use these relics to find her disappeared father while the bodyguards have been ordered to take the relics from her when gets all five in order for them be analyzed to help with the war effort. (The relics hold a special magic that the Temple wants under wraps)

    I was wondering when would be best to bring this up to reveal this to the reader. Right away to get the tension going early on? In the middle when the readers has gotten to know them a bit more? Or near the end as a surprise?

  2. #2
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    What POV is the piece?

    Generally, the reader should know as soon as the narrator knows.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Hi Gammer. I'm not an expert in any of this by any means, but if I were going to write something like this, it would depend on POV. Are you going to be writing all of these characters POV's? If so, then if the character is thinking about their motives, I would clue the reader in.

    If you are staying in the acolytes POV, then the others won't know her motives unless she tells them.

    I think as a reader, I would like to be clued in because it would create tension and I would be wondering when the bodyguards might make their move and I would worry about it, which is good

  4. #4
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    The POV I'm going for third person limited. Each chapter will be in another character's third person POV. Sort of like "A Song of Ice an Fire" books. I'm limiting it to just the acolytes, one of the bodyguards, and two other characters' POV.

  5. #5
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Welcome to AW!

    The motives of your POV character shouldn't be hidden from the reader or else the reader will cry "Foul!" and have every reason to be upset with you. It's also extremely hard to write a character and hide something like that. In general, it's not worth the extra effort.

    The only thing I'd urge you to do to up the tension is to make each of the motivations sympathetic and understandable to the reader. That way, we'll be torn as to who we want to win in the end, because we can see all sides.

    Good luck.
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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gammer View Post
    The POV I'm going for third person limited. Each chapter will be in another character's third person POV. Sort of like "A Song of Ice an Fire" books. I'm limiting it to just the acolytes, one of the bodyguards, and two other characters' POV.
    Alrighty...so when you get to the bodyguards POV...if he thinks about his motive at all, I think you would want to clue the reader in then. I think it might be awkward trying to dance around the fact while in the characters POV.

    By the way...this sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I hope you write it and then post some on SYW.

  7. #7
    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    If we know what the characters know, there can be no surprises.

  8. #8
    Shy Betula alleghaniensis Goldbirch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    The motives of your POV character shouldn't be hidden from the reader or else the reader will cry "Foul!" and have every reason to be upset with you. It's also extremely hard to write a character and hide something like that.
    To expand on this - speaking as a reader, I think that third limited might be especially hard to keep secrets in. First person has the occasional successful unreliable narrator, and third omniscient can also sometimes be selective about what it reveals without upsetting me. But I can't think of a single instance of close third POV where I've been happy about being kept out of the loop.

    YMMV, of course.

  9. #9
    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    You can keep things under wraps for as long as you like provided you hint and foreshadow that things aren't as they seem. Secrets have a tendency to wriggle free from the character trying to keep them, and readers love watching that process.

    That said, keeping viewpoint character secrets from the reader is a fiddly business. It can be done, but it's easier to do badly than to do well.
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  10. #10
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    I'm in the reveal it early camp, though this does give you the option of having the characters struggle w/ their decisions.
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  11. #11
    The colors! THE COLORS! leahzero's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldbirch View Post
    To expand on this - speaking as a reader, I think that third limited might be especially hard to keep secrets in. First person has the occasional successful unreliable narrator, and third omniscient can also sometimes be selective about what it reveals without upsetting me. But I can't think of a single instance of close third POV where I've been happy about being kept out of the loop.

    YMMV, of course.
    I disagree. I think close third can support an unreliable narrator just as well as first--it's simply a different type of subterfuge. Third gives you far more wiggle room to play with (or suppress) internal dialogue, and only requires transparency in showing character behavior. And that's subject to how "close" the close third is.

    In this case, since the bodyguards aren't going to take the relics until the MC collects all 5, they have no reason to act out of the ordinary until then. And if they're trying not to alert her to what they're going to do, they'll probably keep discussion of the plan to a minimum. So the only real opportunity to reveal their true motive would be in internal dialogue, in which case maybe they're sympathetic to the MC and simply feel regret--"She's working so hard. It makes what we're going to have to do even worse." Etc. etc. This gives opportunity to build suspense and mystery without revealing motive too early. Meanwhile, maybe the MC is thinking, "They're working so hard to protect me. I feel guilty about what I'm planning to do once I get all these relics.

    You don't have to do full reveals to raise tension. In fact, partial reveals give an opportunity for MORE tension--we know something's coming, and that these people are hiding something, but we don't know what.
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  12. #12
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    As a reader, I want to know whatever the POV character knows. Otherwise, I feel cheated.

  13. #13
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    It's perfectly normal for a reader to discover an unexpected turn in events.

    It's a totally different thing to leave the reader confused because there doesn't seem to be any reason for the characters behaving as they are.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    What POV is the piece?

    Generally, the reader should know as soon as the narrator knows.

    This.

  15. #15
    Shy Betula alleghaniensis Goldbirch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by leahzero View Post
    I disagree. I think close third can support an unreliable narrator just as well as first--it's simply a different type of subterfuge. Third gives you far more wiggle room to play with (or suppress) internal dialogue, and only requires transparency in showing character behavior. And that's subject to how "close" the close third is.
    Fair enough. (And yes, it definitely matters just how close the POV is - if I'm not privy to internal thoughts in general, then it doesn't bother me as much when I'm not privy to secret, plot-relevant internal thoughts.)

    The sort of examples you gave, with a POV character feeling emotions about an undefined future-plan-thingy, is exactly the kind of thing that makes me a Very Unhappy Reader. Probably someone who likes to read the sort of suspense you describe would do a better job of writing it, whereas it would be extremely difficult for me.

    If a slower reveal fits the OP's story, more power to it. I didn't mean to imply that an entire POV choice never works for a slow reveal, though on re-reading my post I see that it can come off that way.

  16. #16
    Resident Alien Reziac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by leahzero View Post
    I disagree. I think close third can support an unreliable narrator just as well as first--it's simply a different type of subterfuge. Third gives you far more wiggle room to play with (or suppress) internal dialogue, and only requires transparency in showing character behavior. And that's subject to how "close" the close third is.
    Also, how honest the character is with himself. I have one who has been so diligent (if not exactly successful) at lying to herself, at deliberately not being her own past, that when it does intrude it gets her all discomwubilated. (Which usually causes more problems for other people than for herself, especially those who don't know what the hell her problem is.) Hence the reader sometimes gets clues before she does.

    At any rate, IMO, let the characters lie to themselves and each other, but don't you lie to the reader, unless you like the sound of your book hitting the wall!
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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Coco82's Avatar
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    I'm glad you posted this, becaise it's something I've wondered myself. I'm a big ASOIAF fan and some things happened there that blew my mind so I think you can hold off on revealing something for a little while. I don't think as character x has their plan they have to announce it in every instance although doing it may help in building tension in others.
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