Character vs. Author vs. Reader Perspective

Posted by : E.v.R. | On : October 27, 2005

Despite a nasty cold making a zombie out of me, I’ve been getting some work done on my outline for the November death march known as NaNoWriMo.

Already encountered situations where my knowledge as the author tips in favor of the characters when it shouldn’t so I’ve had to do some pretending, feign ignorance, and put myself in the shoes of the characters and think “What would I do?” It’s a fun excercise and one that every author has to go through at some point.

It’s even more important in a detective story where the plot is so strongly tied to the information the characters have.

On top of that though, you still want it to be mysterious so in many ways you have three sets of information: Character information, Author information, and Reader information.

I noticed in both Hammett’s work and Chandler’s that the main characters would arrive at a conclusion earlier than the reader, and thus would set about a course of action that perhaps didn’t make sense to the reader at the time, but made perfect sense in hindsight.

I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand it makes the hero seem really smart for figuring out something that the reader couldn’t, or wouldn’t, until later. On the other hand you’re cutting the reader out of the deductive process that the character is going through and being presented with a passive conclusion–a conclusion the reader had no part in figuring out for themselves.

I think it’s possible to leave a few more clues or allow the reader to predict a few things on their own. This is not to say that the writer should make things obvious, but how things are made known is equally important.

Personally it breaks my immersion a bit when the main character seems to have figured out something ‘magically’ that I had no clue about. It raises an interesting question;

How much of the hero’s actions should be a suprise to the reader?

Comment (1)

  1. Mairead said on 22-04-2012

    Kant urges us to treat people always as an ends, not as a means. To render a character as realistic, afford the character the same dignity all others deserve. This includes respecting the differences among characters. Just as there are differences in how much various persons share, there should be similar variety in what characters are prone to share with the audience. So to answer how much of the hero’s actions should be a surprise to the reader would be to perpetuate a conversation framed by the question in a way that appeals to a formula or morality of the forms, rather than allow the individual character to naturally develop upon the page via time spent with the author. The reader enjoys the more eloquent, edited moments of this natural process. Hope my opinion helped.