The title of this post references the idea of giving away your “catch” in a story. How does the author do this? When is the right time for the author to drop knowledge? When one character is in possession of more information than others, how long can the author strike a balance between giving away the major plot points and keeping a reader interested?
Complicating the matter further, at the beginning of a complex narrative, how does the author establish a basic understanding with the reader for the book to move forward?
These were all easy questions for me to answer when writing Master of the House. That book being heavily character based allowed me to pair up the reader with Julian from the beginning. As the reader developed questions, so did Julian. There was parity there. To keep things interesting for the reader, to keep them feeling intelligent and as if they were in a superior position, Dori would reveal other information in scenes apart from the main cast. Turnbill also served this purpose but in a contrasting way and after the crux of the conflict was revealed, Envy participates in this dialog with the reader as well. From a writing standpoint, the questions at the beginning of this post were never an issue.
Now, my follow up work, tentatively titled Children of the New Potential, faces a far more challenging method for delivering information and foreshadowing.
In this new book, I have the challenge of informing the reader of a vast and sweeping plot/concept and at the same time, I have characters who are learning the same things as the characters. The difficulty comes in how to deliver plot information and still have it be believable. This applies both to the reader and characters as well.
I am working within a fantasy realm here and the crux of any issue has to be…well, fantastic. Trying to preserve character motivation and rationality in this environment is difficult. If one character reveals critical information but does it such that it is presented flatly as an explanation, it sounds crazy. I don’t mean “crazy” to the reader, they are reading a fantasy novel and have already suspended their disbelief. I mean that a character is just as likely to say, “Right, right, end of the world…dragons, wizards, threat to all mankind… Piss off you crazy kook” as they are to say, “Let me go get my sword”.
So, to move a complicated plot forward, information has to be presented in a sane manner to the characters so that the reader can understand their motivation in context of the situation. Think about Star Wars. Even with Luke’s desire to leave his home planet, Obi Wan’s initial offer to travel away for adventure is rejected as “impossible”. Only when it is shown that Luke has nothing to stay around for because his family has been killed does he make the decision to leave. That example carries through this whole discussion despite Luke’s final choice being so obvious. (Removing ALL other choices is a somewhat blunt way to show motivation but it works)
For plot driven stories, the author must strike a balance between showing and telling. Too much telling and you give away not only the plot but all the suspense that builds up to the conclusion. Too much showing robs your characters of an ability to mold the events in their own perception. Go back to the above example of Star Wars. Obi Wan tells Luke a whole lot in the scene after rescuing Luke but he tells the events from his perspective. There’s clearly more to what’s going on than the viewer knows and there’s more going on than Luke knows but the plot has moved more into focus. We know that this character Darth Vader is not only bad but is tied to Luke’s history from what we have seen and now heard.
Children of the New Potential has a character named Laylani in it. She is an Elf of Deep Shadow much the same as Rozalin and LeShaitan from Master of the House. Her role in the story is that of messenger. She knows far more than any of the other core characters in the book. The adventure that Laylani will lead them on is based on this knowledge. To advance the plot, Laylani has to act on what she knows.
Laylani becomes my voice as the author amongst the group where plot is concerned. She understands the threats they are facing and knows enough to explain the immediate problems that they are facing. Just like Obi Wan from earlier, the information she reveals is colored by her own perception of things. In her case, she thinks that she knows more than she really does.
This becomes for me, what I started to question at the beginning of this post, how to strike a balance. Laylani reveals what she knows to the other characters and to the reader. However, the reality of the world and the threats they face become the “showing” that keeps the plot from being revealed too early or too easily. The “showing” also reveals that Laylani may not have as tight a grip on things as she first thought.
A far reaching and plot-centered as Children of the New Potential is, my main method for delivering information to the reader and other characters is preserved from merely being a plot device by her own vulnerability of not having the story as correct as she thinks she does. Slowly, she will come to find that the clear lines she has established in her head to go about her tasks, are not so clear. The understanding of it all that she shares with the readers becomes a point of sympathy for her when the reality of the situation is shown to differ from the reality in her mind.
Tough subject matter to be sure and writing about it without the source material being available for review at this point is even more difficult. I apologize for that. Much of what appears here and what will appear in this blog is a way for me to organize thoughts as I write and look back on it to explain my thought process as it moves forward.