Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Maintaining Suspense 
When Using Criminal POV

By Ron Brown

2002, Ron Brown

Showing the crime and getting into the head of a deviant criminal, evil mastermind, or even a man caught in circumstances can be a powerful tool.  Making the reader sympathize with the villain of a story can have an impact on the reader that will make them both uneasy and excited.  A serial killer story can take on a number of moral and ethical questions when the thoughts and reasoning of the villain are displayed.

The difficulty in using this technique is maintaining suspense.  There are three main ways to create and maintain suspense while using the POV of the character whose actions are creating the mystery.

The first, and least advised, is to use the POV but hide the facts.  Statements such as "Jack watched the girl hop into her car and he knew what his next move would be" do preserve the mystery, but they are also vague.  Many readers will tire of sections that they know will only end in vague statements meant to force mystery.  This can alienate your audience.

Another option is to construct your story so that the antagonist is forced to change his or her plans.  If your hero is chasing your villain, both characters will be forced to react to events.  Knowing what the villain does in no way predicts or spoils what you have planned for the main character, nor does it make the suspense seem artificial.  This works well only if the antagonist has a plan that changes.  If the villain's role is that of the mastermind behind a plot that will begin in two weeks, and the heroine must discover the plan, then showing the villain finalizing the plot can spoil much of the suspense.

However, this need not be the case.  The third option is to use dramatic irony as a tool.  Allowing the reader to know more than the hero can cause an emotional pull within the reader as the character continues down a path that the reader knows is fraught with danger.  Though this technique may seem simple, it is the most difficult.  A greater concern for the main character is needed for this method.  Since the mystery is gone, the reader must be so concerned with the protagonist's well-being that the threat of impending danger affects the reader.  This can be powerful if used correctly.

Lastly, if none of these methods seems to be working for you, there are ways to show the villain without getting inside his head.  Using the POV of victims or allies who are kept in the dark can show some of the villain's character but none of his thoughts.  Though this will give the reader a weaker connection to the villain and will cause less conflict within the reader about both liking and hating the character, it will allow you to display the character you have created through the eyes of others while making it easier to withhold the facts that threaten to wreck your mystery.