Kylie Q and I have been having an offsite discussion that I think raises some interesting issues. So I intend to turn this column over to Kylie:
"When does the bad guy’s identity need to be revealed? And does this depend on who else knows his identity?
My current manuscript has a bad guy supporting character. He’s a nasty, evil piece of work. Or at least, he seems to be. If you were to know him properly – to understand his motivations – you’d realise that although he’s doing some nasty, evil stuff, he’s doing it for reasons that are, to him at least, very important and worthy. Which brings me to my question – when should I reveal his identity? At the moment, I’ve introduced him as two characters. We get to know him in his public aspect, where we know him by name and learn about what is important to him. He has also come in anonymously in other chapters. This is where he’s doing his bad guy stuff. I didn’t intend it to be like this – with him appearing to be two characters – but it seems that this is what he wanted. I’ve tried to lead the reader to a gradual understanding of the two characters being the one man and hope that by knowing him in both aspects, they will be a little more sympathetic to him. That doesn’t mean he’s not still a bad guy – I just want the reader to understand why he is what he is.
I’ve recently had a partial manuscript appraisal done and it was suggested to me that if my POV character knows the bad guy’s identity, then the reader must also. So what do you think? Can I have an anonymous supporting character, even if other characters obviously know who he is?"
If I may start the ball rolling. As a matter of principle, in my opinion, the answer to your question is 'yes'. The reader does not need to know everything that is in the POV character's mind. Many classic English mystery stories and American detective tales depend on hidden knowledge. It is a difficult problem for the author to navigate. The concealed information should be hinted at and foreshadowed so that the reader does not feel cheated by the revelations in the climax, as if the author had employed a deus ex machina.
Actually, I have just submitted a story to Black Library where the single POV character is not what he appears to the rest of the characters - a sort of reverse of Kylie's problem but presenting similar issues. The editor hates it, incidentally!
PS, the photo is Edward Bear with my wife. He is the third person sharing our marriage bed.