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Old 02-24-2012, 02:32 AM   #1
KalenO
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All This Could Be Solved with Just a Little Communication

So I'm finding myself more than a little peeved with a trope I've been seeing with increasing frequency in recent YA novels, particularly of the paranormal/sci-fi/thriller set. That is, when the MC is in the dark about something and the mysterious ally/love interest/rescuer has all the answers but refuses to divulge them.

The most recent instance was a book where the love interest just kept saying trust me, now's not the time, can't tell you yet, every time the MC presses him for answers. And of course, shit happens that could easily have been avoided if the MC had been in the know.

But here's where books lose me. It's one thing if you genuinely have a reason the MC can't be told information yet. But when the answers are finally revealed....you need to also reveal WHY those answers couldn't have been given a hundred pages sooner. Don't just gloss over that question and let it drop off the page, hoping readers won't notice. Because that's (IMO) the difference between a coherent plot with a plausible mystery, and just milking the MC's ignorance for all its worth, and not letting her know things that would otherwise ruin the shiny plot twist you have coming.

Anyone else see this in books a lot? Where do you draw the line as to when it makes sense to keep the MC in the dark vs where it feels like the author's just sacrificing logic for the sake of keeping a mystery going longer?
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Old 02-24-2012, 02:39 AM   #2
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Arrrrgh I hate that too! I was watching a television program that did the same thing earlier. The MC had all these stupid questions and she refused to ask the one person that could answer them and because of that everything went tits up, but the 'tits up' events all needed to happen for further plot development.

It's such a lazy way of building tension or keeping the reader interested or developing a plot. For books to be realistic people need to consider "If this is what my MC wants, where can they find it? when do they need to find it? who do they need to find it from? Is it realistic if they find it at this point from this person?"

It makes me put a book down if we as the reader know something and then three quarters of the book is just the character trying to find out what we all ready know when as readers we know that all she needs to do is ask person X and then she wouldn't have had to go through all that trouble. I don't find that gripping I find it straight up irritating.
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Old 02-24-2012, 02:41 AM   #3
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YES YES YES. I see this alllllll the time and it's so annoying. A lot of the time it seems like just a lame tactic to keep the MC subservient to the LI, who has to be all mysterious and... just bleh. In real life it just does NOT make sense to not tell someone stuff that will keep them safe! If you had a very small child who didn't know much and you told them not to go play the edge of the cliff but you didn't tell them they could fall, that wouldn't be keeping them safe! You have to tell someone what could happen in order to deter them! This frustrates me so much.
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Old 02-24-2012, 02:48 AM   #4
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Cheap power dynamics. By withholding information the LI retains mystery and induces wangst in the MC (and the reader plowing through).
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Old 02-24-2012, 03:04 AM   #5
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I hate it enough in real life.
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Old 02-24-2012, 03:25 AM   #6
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As stupid and bad as it was in other ways, Carrier of the Mark was actually pretty all right: the LI told the MC everything about teh supahnatural happeningz a couple days after they met. Of course, they were also in instalove-on-speed, so everything else was fast, too.
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Old 02-26-2012, 08:45 AM   #7
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I personally don't like it. Any character holding back vital, save your life information better have a damn good reason or else it just highlights the flaws in otherwise uninteresting text. Being coy just to hook the reader and without benefiting the text makes a plot look weak.
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Old 02-26-2012, 09:20 AM   #8
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It generally makes me dislike the LI and then dislike the MC for still liking the LI.

(That said, I'm pretty sure it's in my WIP somewhere. Oh, I see editing in my future.)
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Old 02-26-2012, 09:52 AM   #9
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In The Book That Shall Not Be Named, the LI did it all the time.
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Old 02-26-2012, 09:52 AM   #10
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Especially when the MC could figure it out if they actually thought about it but doesn't.
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Old 02-26-2012, 01:44 PM   #11
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I think it's a way to create conflict when the writer doesn't have any more ideas. Make X keep some information from Y, and Y spends three pages trying to figure it out.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:45 PM   #12
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I hate that. Surely a really important aspect in a relationship is confiding in and TALKING TO EACH OTHER?

*didn't mean to shout *
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Old 02-26-2012, 03:58 PM   #13
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Yes, when the reason for not telling is simply to add conflict, I get pretty annoyed. There are times when it makes sense for a character to hide things (embarrassment, fear, actual inability of the MC to understand at this point (instead of just the other person thinking that), etc.), but when the hidden information is just to draw out the reader's suspense or confusion, it's pretty annoying. I don't give up on books often, but last year I gave up on (and sold!) a book where the MC was told through the entire first third of the book that things would be explained later (and to make things worse, when he found someone who would explain things, he decided he wasn't going to ask for no apparent reason).
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Old 02-26-2012, 04:06 PM   #14
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I find it worse when it happens in Contemp actually. The whole 'I caught you in a passionate embrace with someone else so oh! let's break up. But then months down the line after we've both dated other people and can't seem to stay away from each other I learn you was giving her a friendly hug because her mum died.'

It seriously peeves me off. And whole books can be built from that one refusal to communicate. The MC thinks the LI did something that the LI didn't do and then won't talk to the LI so he can explain. Or the LI realises that actually she's better off without him even though he didn't do what she thought he did...
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Old 02-26-2012, 04:12 PM   #15
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I think it frustrates me more in that kind of situation, but unless there were opportunities for the one character to explain themselves or the other never said why they were breaking it off, I find it more reasonable than a character willfully holding back information. I think this is because I have trouble explaining myself when accused of something or explaining to the person I'm mad at why I'm mad at them.
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Old 02-26-2012, 05:05 PM   #16
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I see your point. I think, though, that if I were 'madly in love' with someone, I wouldn't allow for the relationship to break down so easily without first speaking about it.

But I have also read a lot of books where a character has wondered something but hasn't asked and because they didn't ask, a whole bunch of crap happens that could have been avoided if the character had just spoken up. It's definitely a tension tactic, and a plot device, but it's a sucky one!
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Old 02-26-2012, 10:12 PM   #17
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I find it worse when it happens in Contemp actually. The whole 'I caught you in a passionate embrace with someone else so oh! let's break up. But then months down the line after we've both dated other people and can't seem to stay away from each other I learn you was giving her a friendly hug because her mum died.'
Or better, when it turns out that *mystery girl* is his sister.
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Old 02-26-2012, 10:19 PM   #18
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I'm actually concerned about that in my book. A big driving factor is centered around the MC secretly knowing something about herself that she isn't supposed to know. The other characters have reasons for not telling her, but sometimes I wonder if maybe she should have just confronted them, especially since there's an *almost* confrontation scene.

I haven't written that scene yet, but I'll have to structure that conversation very carefully.
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Old 02-26-2012, 11:34 PM   #19
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When it's a big *gasp* secret, it annoys me to no end. I hate the big "mysterious" secret. Or the "big misunderstanding". I hate when couples break up in books over silly rumors that could be solved with one fucking conversation. Just because it happens in real life, doesn't mean I care enough to read about it.

The only example of this trope I like is this -- two people have a secret, but one person refuses to talk about it because of fear/embarrassment leading to a bunch of will-they-won't-they drama. But it has to be done really, really well. Otherwise, I won't care.
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Old 02-28-2012, 06:02 PM   #20
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yes!

Very good point!
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Old 03-04-2012, 06:57 AM   #21
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My main character's mentor keeps him in the dark about a lot of things, but (I think) it's for a good reason: the book is a deconstruction of escapist fantasy. When the young boy hero joins up with the mysterious old mentor and leaves his old life behind, the mentor wants him to be able to learn and think for himself, rather than just boldfacedly telling him the answers about the world he lives in.
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Old 03-04-2012, 11:45 AM   #22
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That honestly annoys the piss out of me. :P Any time the plot demands that the characters act non-rationally, really, I feel like the author just isn't doing their job. Or the character is being really stupid.

I am looking at you, Othello.
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