Without naming names, there is a very popular mainstream fiction author who keeps secrets from her readers, and her fans call it “plot twists.” I call it deception.
How is it possible to be in the head of the character who knows the secret, and yet not divulge that knowledge to the reader?
Technically, it’s not possible. But this author, and others who play this similar game, devises a strategy that affords her the freedom to deceive her readers. Usually with multiple POVs. You, as the reader, are lured in by the POV characters. All are in conflict with one another. You know all the information that they hand over to you via flashbacks, dialogue, action, narrative. You are their confidante. Their scenes interrupt and overlap each other, which makes it easy for the author to break into their thoughts at just the right (slick) moment. Then, BAM! You are sideswiped by the one secret that shatters everything you used to believe. And that secret had been held by the POV character(s) until the last possible moment.
Why would an author do this? Because, simply, without that secret—There. Is. No. Story. The way the plot is structured, everything hangs on this secret. So, once the cat is out of the bag, the story is kaput. There is nothing more to tell.
A major problem that comes from withholding information is that you aren’t allowing for an honest connection between reader and POV character(s). I think the conflict of how people deal with the aftermath of the secret (or piece of info) is much more interesting than the secret itself. That’s when you get into the nitty-gritty of your characters’ motivations, strengths, and flaws. You get to see how they can or can’t turn things around and what it all means for everyone involved.
Another major problem is that the author has shortchanged the reader by settling for an idea instead of fostering emotion. Everything is suddenly about the “plot twist” and we’re so caught up in the whirlwind of shock that we don’t really get a chance to understand what it all means.
Keeping secrets from your reader only works logically if your POV character(s) does not have the information. So, if you’re aiming for a plot twist make sure to ask yourself if the POV character has any tidbits he should share with the audience. Otherwise, when the secret comes out it’s fairly obvious that the past 300 pages have all been a set-up. Basically a long, long
journey to get to the punchline. Is that the best way to tell your story?
Or is a better way to tell what your characters will do with that information?