Aug 01 2009

Conveying Knowledge the Point-of-View Character Doesn’t Have

Published by at 9:28 pm under Plotting,Writing Articles

One of the tricky parts about first-person narration is that the story is largely limited to what the narrator knows.  What if you want to cover an event that happens without the narrator?  Here are some possible solutions.

1. Even if the character isn’t there, he can still make inferences afterwards. For example, the protagonist of a detective novel almost never witnesses the crime he’s trying to solve.  But he can still come up with some conclusions about what happened just by examining the crime scene.  Observations work outside of crime scenes, too.  For example, let’s say the protagonist notices that his girlfriend is noticeably less interested in him after his ex-girlfriend has a chat with her.  The protagonist isn’t sure exactly what happened in that conversation, but he can probably narrow it down to a few possibilities.  He can also talk to people that might know more than he does.  For example, even if his girlfriend isn’t returning his calls, he might be able to get a hold of one of her close friends.

 

2. Recount it indirectly. For example, maybe the character learns of the event because a witness describes what he saw.  This is a pretty straightforward way to cover an event that the main character can’t plausibly witness.  Just please make sure that the conversation isn’t an info-dump. Two tips: keep the description brief and don’t neglect the witness’s voice/perspective. If a police officer has to ask a drug dealer to describe what happened because he’s the only available witness, the description will probably fall apart if the drug dealer sounds like the cop. He shouldn’t. People notice different details and usually speak in noticeably different ways.

 

 

3.  The character hears a retelling of the event. For example, maybe he gets a hold of someone’s diary, or a newspaper article, or a rumor, or a video tape, or a blurb on a news channel, etc.

 

4.  The character eavesdrops on the event. Be careful with this one– it will probably get cheesy unless the character has a plausible reason to be within earshot when the conversation starts.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Conveying Knowledge the Point-of-View Character Doesn’t Have”

  1. Tomon 02 Aug 2009 at 2:21 am

    There’s a trope for the contrived version of number 4:
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ExactEavesdropping

    Also, since this site deals with superheroes it’s worth noting a fifth way: mind reading someone who was there.

  2. Contra Gloveon 02 Aug 2009 at 5:20 am

    Mind-reading kills the drama. There can be no secrets with a mind-reader.

  3. JZon 03 Aug 2009 at 5:33 am

    That depends on how you have mind reading work. If you have it work in a way that allows the possibility of secrets, you can have secrets.

    For example: If you follow psychology, you’ll find that it’s really easy to change memories. People do it often. Basically, psychologists have found that if you suggest details, people will often incorporate them.

    Thus, memories could often be unreliable and sometimes downright wrong.

  4. B. Macon 03 Aug 2009 at 9:34 am

    I think that misleading and unreliable information could confuse and/or annoy a lot of readers.

  5. Qwertyon 21 Feb 2013 at 11:03 pm

    There’s a part in a novel I’m planning where a character loses her mind for a short time but is “brought back” by another character. The problem is, I want to write the book in first person. That scene is a key part to the plot because it sends both the villain and the heroine in strong new directions. The only solution I can think of is to write the whole book in third person, just for the sake of that one scene, and then write that scene from the second character’s point of view when the time comes. However, that would sacrifice the intensity of being in the main character’s head for the duration of the story and force the story to become more impersonal. Do you have any suggestions?

  6. B. McKenzieon 22 Feb 2013 at 12:44 am

    “A character loses her mind for a short time but is ‘brought back’ by another character. The trouble is, I want to write the book in first person.” I’m assuming that the character who loses her mind is not the first-person point of view?

    Some thoughts:
    –Involve the main character in the scene more. For example, if the main character is the character that brings back the lost character, it would be much easier to incorporate the first person’s perspective into the scene. If the premise allows for something supernatural, it may be worth considering adding some element which allows the main character to get closer to the mind-losing earlier (e.g. an early attempt to rescue the character through supernatural means ends in failure).

    –I would recommend against substantially restructuring the book for one scene that happens to a non-main character. However, if you did want to restructure, the possibility that came to mind before going to all-third-person was switching from the main character’s first person narration for most of the book to a brief tangent with the second character and back to the main character. It’s not unheard of for a book told mostly from one character’s perspective to have a tangent with another character (e.g. the Harry Potter series switched to the perspective of a character about to be murdered because it wouldn’t have been easy to show the event through Harry’s perspective).

  7. Qwertyon 22 Feb 2013 at 1:04 am

    The problem I’m facing is, the main character (whose point of view the first person story is told in) IS the person who loses her mind. After a traumatic experience, her mind snaps and she temporarily starts to accomplish the villain’s evil goal. However, the second character (also the love interest) is able to “snap her out of it”, and once that happens, the villain has to find a new way to accomplish his goal (since the villain’s first plot failed).

    It’s sort of akin to The Avengers where Hawkeye is working for Loki without knowing it (because of the mind-control spell), but Black Widow snaps him out of it to get him back to working for the good guys. (It’s a very basic comparison – my story is nothing like Avengers.) Think of my problem as “the Avengers” told from Hawkeye’s point of view in first-person…see what I mean? That’s why I’m thinking the only solution is to switch to third person. How else do you write a part about a character who is under mind-control (of sorts) for a short time?

  8. B. McKenzieon 22 Feb 2013 at 3:12 am

    “The problem I’m facing is, the main character (whose point of view the first person story is told in) IS the person who loses her mind… Think of my problem as The Avengers told from Hawkeye’s first-person point-of-view.” Ahh! This concept strikes me as more workable than what I had in mind. For example, I’d recommend Second Person, Present Tense by Daryl Gregory, Flowers for Algernon, and Fight Club as three works where the POV character goes through a significant change of psyche. The movie Warm Bodies also features a similar element, a first-person narrator explaining what it’s like to be a zombie.

  9. Proxie#0on 01 Jun 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I am going to post an ability that has the potential to do just this, and i was hoping for a little feedback.

    Psychometry: Audrey can sense the emotions, and sometimes see very faint images, of an objects past by coming in contact with it. This is not very commonly used by her, as it must be a person or thing very special to her or her family for it to work (emotional connection). When it does, she goes into a trance for the period of time she views the past, which is limited to the previous 22 hours.

    Also, if anyone is curios, Audrey is an empath, and gained her abilities when she was 17/18. Her character is more fully explained on my review page.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply