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Who knows what in a story?
Actually, it is one thing to BUILD plots, events, characters, and it is something else to INFORM the audience and the characters about those facts.
Half of the drama power does not come from the way things are structured, but from the way they are told and revealed
Imagine we see a man, but we do not know yet that he is a children killer, and we see him talking with a child… When we are informed about this character’s real identity, we are suddenly frightened and have to reconsider what we previously believed.
In a story, two types of beings receive information:
- The audience
- And the characters
The audience is informed:
- by a narrator
- by the characters speaking or acting
- by his own try to guess and foresee
The characters are informed:
- By other characters
- By their own activity to search for information
Who knows what, when, how and with which consequences is very important!
Audience and characters are not equally informed and their levels of information change frequently along a story.
Here are the main cases:
Audience is informed, some characters are not
The story can inform the audience about things that are going to happen to other characters, so that when we see the action, we know that the characters did not know what was going to happen.
Ex: We see two lovers discussing in a café. It’s totally different if: 5 minutes before their arrival we saw that a bomb had been stuck under the table. The audience fears for them, whereas the lovers do not know they’ll die very soon.
Ex: In a story of spies, at first we are following different employees of a powerful administration. One character appears to be a spy. He is in charge of inquiring about the identity of an enemy spy, hiding somewhere in this administration. When we will meet this second spy, we will have a permanent advantage on him, if we stay informed by the first spy.
In The Little Prince, the audience knows that the Little Prince comes from another planet, but the fox does not.
Character is informed, audience is not
We can tell events whose meaning is unintelligible by the audience. Of course the characters know what they are doing, but the audience will need time and effort to guess what it is about.
We see a guy putting liquids in a jar. We do not know what for but surely he knows. When we see him putting the jar in a car, then when we see the car explode, we understand he was actually making a bomb! He knew, we didn’t – it created a suspense, we wanted to understand what he was doing.
We see that A is searching for B. So we are curious of who is this mysterious B… we search for him in every character we meet, we try to guess it… And finally we learn that A is B!! In this case, our source of information was dishonest and lied to us. This is what happens in Agatha Christie’s novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
In Game of Thrones, Lord Varys knows from the beginning that he is an opportunistic traitor, but the public does not know it yet.
Some characters are informed, some others are not
It also makes a difference according to which characters have the important informations.
Imagine a bedroom. Let’s put a couple on the bed: That is one situation.
Now, let’s put the lover of the woman under the bed while the couple is on the bed: That is a different situation.
Now, let’s imagine that the woman knows about her lover under the bed: that is different if she does not know.
It is still different if the man knows and the woman does not.
In The Godfather, Michael knows that he comes to kill the corrupt cop and the enemy mafia, and that a gun is hidden in the toilet, but the cop and the mafia don’t know it.
Want to know more ? Then read our tutorial about How to write a story.