(Another post-apocalyptic novel question! I'm just full of them.)

My MC, Eris, has the power to manipulate life force. As a child, she accidentally killed her family and other survivors who investigated the commotion she caused while killing them, and has semi-suppressed the memory, causing the pain and trauma of the events to manifest in a recurring third-person nightmare, where she watches herself kill her family (but doesn't fully know that she's looking at her younger self).

Now she's a young woman, and has been found by a group of survivors and taken in. She feels out of place and is constantly afraid of being discovered as a killer, even if she herself doesn't quite know what she's done. Away from the others, unseen by anyone, and in a moment of rage, she projects her powers and fells a tree, killing it just by touching it. She's horrified and has only an inkling of the ramifications of her actions, and barely, if at all, makes a connection between the bizarre thing she just did and her nightmares of the girl who kills her family. I've previously talked about Eris having difficulty with acknowledging bad things she's done here.

I'm maybe a quarter of the way through the story, and I think that the reader can easily stitch together context clues and figure out that the girl in Eris' dreams is her, and Eris is a killer and possesses superhuman abilities. To me, the writer, it's obvious, and when I share my piece with peers and teachers, they know what's going on and can easily put the pieces of the puzzle together.

But since it's so easy for the readers to get the background of Eris' character and figure out who she is and what she's done, would it be just as easy for Eris to do the same? Is it unrealistic for her to be unable to connect the dots and remember her actions? Will it bore the reader that Eris is missing something big?

  • 6
    Fixing other peoples problems while ignoring yours is what everyone who answers questions here does. It's 97% of the reason, I do. That's why all I have to wear atm is a towel and one and a half socks.
    – Mazura
    Jan 12, 2019 at 20:14
  • 1
    Side comment, you named your MC "Discord" and "Violent conflict" as a tribute or just because it looks nice? Jan 12, 2019 at 21:41
  • 2
    @AlbertoYagos I did it on purpose after the goddess of discord, because she's a damn walking disaster.
    – user34214
    Jan 12, 2019 at 21:57

3 Answers 3


Is it unrealistic for her to be unable to connect the dots and remember her actions?

I think you should look at this in a slightly different way. It's not that she's unable to connect the dots; it's that she's unwilling to. I notice you specified in the linked question that:

even when she is alone she is unable to acknowledge the truth of her actions

So she might notice the dots, but she would deliberately avoid connecting them because she doesn't like the pattern they make. She may notice that the power with which she felled that tree is similar to the power from her nightmares, but she would immediately shrug it off as a coincidence, or perhaps even deny that the felling was her doing at all. The alternative - that the woman in the dream is her, that she killed her family - is just too horrifying for her to contemplate.

It would still be obvious to your readers what the truth is. But instead of them potentially thinking Eris is an idiot for not putting the pieces together, they would instead (hopefully) realise that she's deeply in denial and simply doesn't want to.


As both @F1Krazy and @Rasdashan say, it's not unrealistic for a character not to realise what is clear to the reader. In a way, the character actively refuses to connect the dots, she has a strong impetus to respond this way, whereas the readers would have no inhibition to understanding what's going on.

However, since for the reader there is no mystery, you cannot rely on mystery to create tension. I remember reading a particular fantasy book which has received wide acclaim, but was built around a single mystery the characters were trying to solve. Having deduced the answer two hundred pages before the MCs, I found myself bored to tears, waiting for the characters to finally figure it out. The author provided nothing else to engage me, other than the search for the solution which I have already found.

It follows, that you would have to provide something else to engage the reader, instead of the mystery of "what happened to Eris's parents". A tension-building question that would engage the readers could be who / how many would get hurt because Eris refuses to realise what she's doing.


It also helps to know how old she was when she massacred her family. If she were four or so, the connection between the act and the result would be frail as young children have no real concept of death. There was a school shooting years ago where a child (I think he was five or six) shot and killed a classmate. He had no understanding of what he had done by pointing daddy’s gun at his friend and squeezing.

Denial is powerful and we are often blind to ourselves but perceptive of others. Eris might believe that she witnessed this tragedy and would some day avenge their meaningless deaths. The eventual realization that she is the one she is hungering to kill will be a shock.

Some part of her will know that she is dangerous, but aren’t we all? Get inside her head, sprinkle a few red herrings for her to find and let the reader watch as she struggles with the grief and guilt without truly understanding the source.

In the movie Looper, the child had killed his mother in a fit of rage. His emotions tended to create cyclones of items swirling about, lethal potential everywhere. He never understood that the aunt who raised him had not taken him from his mother - he had.

Presumably, his older self was distracted from introspection by the attempt on his own life as a child - paradox of time travel. What the MC sought to do - remove the dangerous person who eventually kills everyone he loves - possibly caused the character to become a dangerous criminal.

Some characters are just not that introspective. If you make it a part of who she is, the reader will realize it will probably take something extraordinary to make her ponder the issue and realize how dangerous she really is.

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    Yes, this is a textbook case of Freud's "Denial" as a defense mechanism. Jan 12, 2019 at 19:24

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