Third person close: "hide" an action by POV character

msstice

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I'm writing in close third person. I wrote a chapter where the POV character does something (X). The unintended consequences of X become apparent a bit later on during Y.

As I was writing I realized I could play this two ways
  1. The POV character and the reader knows about X and so when Y happens they both go "Ah crap!"
  2. I skip describing episode X and only reveal it when the POV character goes "Ah crap" when Y is happening.
I have two questions.
  1. Which one would seem more suspenseful to you. To me with good writing both could be suspenseful, but in 1 you may have more sympathy with the character's feelings, i.e. less telling is needed
  2. This skipping of episode X is it ok in third person close?
Thanks!
 

Droflet

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This is my style of writing. I chose it so that when the surprise happened, even if the mc knew it was coming, the readers didn't. It is quite doable if you think through the situation your mc, or a third character, are going through. Close third is, IMHO, the way to go, if you like surprising your readers.
 

ckatt

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I find it impossible to say which is more suspenseful without knowing what the events are.

As to the hypothetical
Suspense requires reader knowledge. That is, the reader must know that there is something they don't know. And they must know that the thing could be potentially bad.
So option 1 has the potential for more suspense because they know about X. (or not since I don't know what X is here)
Option 2 could be more surprising but runs the risk of making the reader think something has been withheld. And that can feel cheap. Again it depends on what X is. If it is something innocuous that turns big it might be ok. But if its clearly a big deal then and there, it may leave people wondering why they didn't know about it sooner, whether the story is told in 1st person or 3rd.
 

msstice

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@ckatt That is insightful, thank you.

X is a course of action the MC deliberately takes which turns out later to have huge, negative and unexpected consequences when Y happens.

I now think showing the MC doing X before hand will be more dramatic because the reader and the MC will discover the negative consequences of X together, generating more sympathy for the MC.

If I withheld MC doing X, and then only have the MC "remember" X when Y happens the reader may not be so emotionally onboard.
 

Toby Frost

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I recently read a book where a gangster kidnaps a rival and goes into a room where the rival is tied up. The book said words to the effect of "Eddie did what he had to do" - it's later revealed that this isn't killing the rival but telling them why he's going to let them go. However, this is revealed a page or two later, and the author's style was very much geared to talking directly to the reader.

Generally, I think you should show the MC doing X: partly because it will set up concern in the reader's mind as to what the consequences will be, and partly because not showing the reader in a close 3rd person perspective could involve some rather awkward sleight of hand. It also seems weird to skip something that's important to the character.
 

Wayne Mack

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I think the time lag between the incident and the consequence is probably the determining factor. If the consequence is almost immediate, then not showing what the POV character did may even speed the story along by not having to drag the reader through the details of the action. If the time lag is long though, I would feel that the writer just through something in at the last minute to fix a plot hole. In the latter case, I would think tension would be built by showing how things are unravelling due to the incident before it all collapses with the consequence.

That is a general comment, though. As the writer, you are more in touch with how you expect the story to progress. Go with your instinct. You will find that you will do your best writing when you are doing what feels right to you. Worst case is that you decide later that you made the wrong choice and have to go back and do another draft.
 

tinkerdan

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No surprises please.
I consider this a reverse Chekhov.
You know the one where if a gun shows up in scene one it should be used within a timely fashion.

Conversely:

A gun should probably not just appear in a scene that has been used several times where there was no gun.

The big thing here is to avoid those things that look like you suddenly needed the main character to be an expert a something--so he does some CSI stuff and you feel you have to add that fated line: it's a good thing he took those courses; unless, of course, it is his profession. Those courses should probably be mentioned in advance.

More importantly if he does something in one scene that causes consequences in another it is better to establish what he does and then demonstrate the consequences than to have him throwing up in the toilet and thinking I should have never taken the gum from the underside of that desk and started chewing it--when you forgot to mention that he did that a scene or two back.
.
 

Randy M.

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I'm thinking more Hitchcock. To paraphrase (maybe too much so), you can have bomb go off and it'll surprise the audience. Or you can show them the bomb before it goes off then switch to the actions of oblivious characters and by doing so generate anxiety and suspense for the welfare of the characters.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Surprise is often over-rated. Anticipation because we know what is likely to happen a dread it is just as good, and often better. As for concealing things done by the POV character in order to surprise readers, though it can, of course, work (anything can work if executed skillfully) the writer runs the risk that readers may thereby feel cheated and or unfairly manipulated. So it's a tricky thing to pull-off and not always worth it.
 

DLCroix

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Oh well, I don't know if I got it right, but if Y is a consequence of X, I don't see how you could pose a suspense. In fact, I like the first approach better, perhaps because of my more graphic tendency to think about stories even from a comic book script that allows me to visualize frames, character positions, etc. Therefore I apply Chekov's rule, I don't know if I wrote it correctly. For me, a suspense has to do with the interaction of more elements, a character or an unexpected factor from the environment that has not been considered, what do I know, a guard approaching from the other side of the MC, a crack in the ice , etc., and thus makes the reader wonder what is going to happen.
 

Wayne Mack

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One possibility is that the writer could set up a The Lady or The Tiger situation. For example:

Al and his gang have Bill prisoner. The gang leaves and when it returns, Al is tied up and Bill is gone. The suspense item would be, did Bill overcome Al and escape or did Al help Bill escape?
 

Toby Frost

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There's actually a Dorothy L Sayers murder mystery where she stops the story mid-description of a painter's tool-kit and says words very much like "The intelligent reader will realise what was missing, so I don't have to tell you" and then starts the story again. Not sure I'd recommend this!
 

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