The X-Factor is an unknown or unexplained element that makes something more interesting or valuable.
Your main character can’t know everything. He will only know what he personally experiences and what someone tells him. Other than that, he can only “think” he knows something. This is what I call the x-factor in writing the emotionally engaging character. Point of view is not omniscient. It can’t know everything. Its view is going to be limited. So if you want the reader to know something the main character can never know, you will have to give the point of view of the character who does know the answer.
Sometimes what the main character never knows (but the reader does) can be a powerful tool in storytelling.
For example, I have one book where the villain becomes kidnaps the heroine. The hero and a lawman both believe the villain killed his wife. So they’re even more anxious to find the heroine. The heroine finds remains of the wife’s skeleton under the dirt in the cabin the villain took her to, further leading the reader to believe he did kill his wife. Long story short, the book ends with the hero, heroine, and lawman believing the villain killed his wife. But I (the author) knew this was not the case. So I had to insert a scene in the villain’s point of view where he remembers his wife tripping on her dress and falling down the stairs, thereby breaking her neck (and dying). So though he is a villain in every sense of the word, he was innocent of murdering his wife. The only way the reader was going to know this was if I inserted his point of view. Otherwise, the reader would go on believing he killed her.
That is the x-factor at work when you’re writing fiction.
Some of my favorite scenes in movies, TV shows, and books are those in which I’m given additional information the main characters never receive. And this helps demonstrate the power of point of view. Point of view is limited. It is narrow.
In real life, we have a limited view of things. We can only know what we pick up with our five senses (touch, taste, smell, hear, and see). When someone tells us why they did something, we have to take their word for it. We can’t know with 100% accuracy that things really happened the way they told us. For all we know, they could be lying to us. But regardless of the situation, we pull in everything we experience with our five senses and from what others tell us. Then from this, we develop a set of beliefs about ourselves the world around us. We develop bias. We make judgments based on what we think is right within our limited view of the world. In other words, we have tunnel vision.
The same needs to be true for your character if the character is going to be “real” to the reader. The more I learn about point of view, the more I love it. It is a tool that really allows us to delve deep within our character.
Don’t be afraid of your character not knowing everything. That’s okay. It’s actually realistic if the character doesn’t get all the answers in a neat little package. Instead, play around with giving the reader additional pieces of the puzzle by using other characters’ points of view.
Now, this doesn’t pertain to every story you’ll write, but it can pertain to some. And it might even make the story that much more intriguing.