This post is an offshoot of a past post about unreliable narrators although it applies to characters in general but specifically character(s)-as-narrator or POV character. A question(s) that a writer must always ask himself is:
What does the character know?
When did he know it?
Writers must be careful on how they doled out the information to their characters. Besides the fact that it can ruin a good plot twist if the character knows too much too soon, it also tends to break the willing suspension of disbelief leading to many a wall banger moment if the character knows something without some credible way that he should know it. Thus keeping track of that information is of critical information to the author. Careful control must be maintained in order to introduce a level of unreliability, one that enhances the level of credibility of the character.
Which leads to a third question:
What is he going to do about it?
Because knowing something is not enough, what the character does (or fails to do) with the information (or lack thereof) is key. Characters are expected to behave in accurate and consistent manner (what many folks call realistic) according to their life experience, age, career and intellect (to name a few key factors). Thus a police officer would probably put his hand on his gun if he saw a trail of blood leading away from him, a soldier probably can tell where the enemy is by the sound of weapon’s fire and a fireman knows what kind of equipment he needs to battle a forest fire instead of a fire in a chemical plant. Different characters will use the information given to them in different ways and deduce what will happen next with various degrees of accuracy. When done right it can lead to a great red herring but failure usually leads to dropping an idiot ball on the character.
Oh, and the pic above? Well, I couldn’t help myself. Creepy, isn’t it?