omissions, prevarications and lies
What happens when a character doesn't offer up their knowledge about a situation, twists it somehow, or outright lies? Not only does their reliability come into question, but a mystery is created. Why did the character do this? What's the truth of the matter? When will it be revealed, or will it ever?
In The Turn of The Screw, the Governess holds a good deal of information back — from Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper; from the children; from her employer (who instructed her to do exactly this, bother him about nothing, no matter what); and from the reader. She also occasionally lies about what she has seen and heard. It’s destabilizing and weirdly energizing to the narrative that we don’t know the truth — or at least not the full truth.
In Katie Kitamura's Intimacies, a character pretends to have a short-term amnesia after an assault, but the protagonist suspects he is faking it. When does prudence or circumspection fade into falsehood? It's a murky but tantalizing line, and one that creates great tension, narratively, because it keeps us guessing about the story, which is to say, actively engaged.
Or consider the effect of the limited third-person point of view used by Flannery O’Connor in Wise Blood: We occasionally get access to her central characters’ inner lives, such as when Hazel Motes dreams of coffins and death while stuffed into the tight quarters of his upper berth on the train to Taulkinham, but we aren’t privy to why he’s going to Taullinham, nor what he wants to achieve there. She strings us along for all of Chapter 5 by refusing to name or describe the thing that Enoch Emery has seen at the heart of Forest Park. The curiosity instilled by O’Connor’s restraint keeps us turning the pages with rabid curiosity.
PROMPT: Withhold crucial information from the reader, either through limiting access to your characters’ states of mind, or by introducing falsehood into their relationships with one another. It could be an omission, an outright lie or simply the allowance of a misperception. It could tie into a major plot point or be something more peripheral; it could be something you ultimately reveal or a mystery that is never fully plumbed; but use withholding to complicate our understanding of your characters and to create curiosity and suspense.