3. Character Point of View
(iii) WITHHOLDING BY POINT OF VIEW
The other big benefit of point of view is that a restricted perspective provides a perfect rationale for suspense.
What’s that rattling sound?
Who’s behind that approaching flashlight?
Why is Ben shouting, ‘Cover your head!’?
When we’re standing in the shoes of a particular character, it’s not the author wilfully withholding information in order to make us keep turning the pages. But it keeps us turning the pages just the same.
Novels are especially good at slow, step-by-step revelations. A first feather-light clue leads on to a disturbing suggestion, leads on to a terrible probability—until finally the whole shocking reality emerges.
One exercise I use in creative writing workshops involves planning the steps by which a revelation can creep up on the reader.
For example, when Tam and Nina explore a ruined monastery in my kid’s fantasy Wolf Kingdom 1: Escape! what clues can convey the suggestion that someone is still living there? Sound without sight is always good; and smell; and any details suspiciously out of the ordinary.
Sometimes the reader guesses more than the character, by deducing ahead or by having had access to information through other points of view. Or the reader may interpret clues that the character blithely fails to notice. Sharing a character’s perceptions can create suspense even when the reader isn’t totally limited to the character’s point of view.
The limitations on what a single character knows (rather than perceives) can provide a rationale for mystery throughout a whole novel. The POV character has never been told what happened to her older brother; has never understood why her mother committed suicide, etc.
More on this in relation to narrative momentum. For now, just a memo: creating a mystery is easier with a restricted point of view.