1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Keeping a character's identity secret

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Miskatonic, Mar 1, 2016.

  1. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    1,072
    255
    63
    OK so I'm trying to brainstorm ideas for how I can write different POV chapters, using the MC, but the reader isn't aware that it is the same character until the big reveal.

    A war is going on and the MC is pulling the strings to a degree in order to manipulate various political leaders into forging the outcome that he wants to happen. Given he's interacting with various characters that may meet in person while he's present, he has to become adept at disguising himself.

    I'd prefer to not use magic if at all possible. If he can just change his appearance completely on a whim it kind of waters things down.

    So he needs to have a believable way that he can be going around doing all this stuff, perhaps using his own agents to take care of certain tasks, and at the same time I need to include information that starts to hint at all these characters actually being the same one.

    So it's more of a mystery story type feel to certain events, but taking place in a fantasy setting.
     
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,947
    163
    Is this character pulling all these strings the POV?

    If he is, then you'll need to change the POV, probably to members of different political factions.

    If the reader is inside the POV character's head, withholding information to pull off a surprise ending is cheating. Your reader won't appreciate it and it will fall flat.

    Simply put, relevant information your POV knows, your reader should also know.

    There are exceptions, of course. For example, where the POV may be suffering from a schizoid break and he doesn't realize himself that he's acting as more than one person (i.e. Fight Club).
     
    HellionHeloise and Miskatonic like this.
  3. teacup

    teacup Auror

    1,120
    171
    63
    If you have multiple povs which turn out to all be the same character, then before the reveal your readers might think all your povs are too alike and have criticisms like "all the characters sound the same." Though this could be intentional to hint that they're all the same character, most will just see it as a bad thing rather than wonder if there's something more going on. (Not sure if you'd have written it this way or not, but just a warning.) One way around this could be to make him really get into character when he's pretending to be these other people to the point where when you're in his pov it's very different to how his regular pov is, because he's thinking like the character he created would think rather than how he would.

    The Lies Of Locke Lamora did quite a lot of disguise switching, so I'm sure it could work fine with keeping it as him just being a master of disguise. It would be a good idea for him to minimise his contact with one person when in different disguises so he minimises the chances of them recognising him. If he is in contact with 1 person regularly then talks to that person when in a disguise just once then they might not notice any similarities, but if he is in contact with this person many times when in a certain disguise the person is more likely to notice similarities and possibly question things. If they do notice they look similar then it probably won't go any further than that, just thinking these 2 people look quite alike rather than being the same guy, but he'd still probably want to minimise the chances.

    One hint which just came to mind - you could have one pov be having a conversation with someone and that person mentions one of the other povs, saying something like "you know, you two look quite alike. Are you related by any chance?"
     
    HellionHeloise and Miskatonic like this.
  4. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    1,072
    255
    63
    So basically use the character the MC is interacting with as the POV character for that chapter? Sounds solid. :D
     
  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,947
    163
    The difference here being that Locke Lamora, as the POV, did not hide his true identity from the reader, even when in disguise.

    Precisely.
     
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,161
    1,150
    163
    I don't think you have an alternative. If you do it from the MC's point of the view the reader will think you pulled a fast one on them when they get to the end.
     
    Miskatonic likes this.
  7. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,947
    163
    There is one other option.

    You could have the reader know exactly who the POV is at all times. The tension comes from the possibility of discovery, the danger that would follow as a repercussion, and the potential longing to tell someone he cares for who he truly is.

    Examples of this would be the above mentioned Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch & The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
     
  8. teacup

    teacup Auror

    1,120
    171
    63
    Yes, I just meant that as in it would work well for him to hide his identity from the other characters by just using disguises.


    It would be hard to write just the one character as all the different povs well, and I agree with the others here, it would be hard to do it in a way so that the readers don't feel cheated by the withheld information. Not impossible, but difficult to do it well. Using different characters' povs when the MC is in disguise is a good way to do it and easier to do well.
     
  9. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    1,072
    255
    63
    I also have another character that starts to suspect something is up and works on putting the puzzle together until she has enough evidence to accuse the MC. So her POV is another possible tool to use.
     
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,161
    1,150
    163
    I agree, but Miskatonic suggested the goal was to hold that information back until the "big reveal".
     
  11. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,947
    163
    Yes. You're right.

    I'm merely offering alternatives to consider. There are always other types of reveals, which may be even more dramatic than the original concept.
     
  12. Ben

    Ben Troubadour

    110
    51
    28
    How about the issue you mentioned about how he actually disguises himself?

    I don't think you have to rule out magic if you put some rules restricting it in some ways, or perhaps have the magic come from a device that he can get separated from
     
  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,877
    1,978
    163
    Possibly you could use an objective 3rd-person approach. In this method, you don't dip directly into the thoughts, feelings, opinions of the characters. These things can be revealed, but they are revealed through objective means: by dialogue, body language, observable action and reaction. Such a method could still utilize a limited POV, in which events and clues about the thoughts, feelings, etc., of other characters are only included in the narrative if those things are witnessed by the limited POV character—but he himself does not then directly ruminate on what he sees.

    If you want to reveal the MC's thoughts and feelings on matters while using 3rd-objective, a possible trick would be the soliloquy, in which the POV character talks to himself, or to a mirror, once others have departed the scene. This could be rather gimmicky; however, if neurosis or/and psychosis are features of the MC, this could work rather well. (Think Gollum at the end of the second LOTR movie.) The more reliable way to reveal that MC's thoughts and feelings using an objective 3rd-person approach would be to reveal them through dialogue and action.

    There is a fairly new-fangled term called "3rd-person cinematic," which apparently Orson Scott Card coined. It's discussed in one Writing Excuses podcast, Writing Excuses 7.12: Writing the Omniscient Viewpoint | Writing Excuses. Again, using Gollum as a reference point, this is basically what happens when we watch movies. We see the characters at a distance and typically do not see into their heads (unless they use voiceovers or some other method to reveal thoughts directly.) Their emotions, thoughts, and so forth are revealed objectively—one reason that having a really great actor is important for movies. As mentioned in that podcast, in relation to fiction, the narrative focuses on whatever the "camera" focuses on. This can be like an omniscient POV (and is discussed on the podcast in context with omniscient), but there's no reason the camera can't be an "over-the-shoulder" camera for one limited POV character or at least give that impression.

    I think other suggestions mentioned so far are great, and I'm only including this as something to be considered. I think that going the 3rd-objective route could be quite tricky, especially a) if you are using other POV characters in other chapters and writing them from a more intimate limited approach, and b) given the fact that you are essentially using this one MC for multiple chapters but don't want the reader to know that it's the same person—an objective POV could do that wonderfully, but maybe too wonderfully. (Which raises the whole other question of how to trick a reader so thoroughly while not suffering extremely negative blowback.)
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2016
    TWErvin2, teacup and Miskatonic like this.
  14. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    1,072
    255
    63
    I guess I should give a better description than just simple the MC.

    Basically the guy is a sell-sword type with a more or less positive reputation because he's honorable and looks after his fellow soldiers in battle, he's not a cutthroat that is just in it for the money. So this is the impression he gives to the secondary characters (the "good guys"). War breaks out and he signs up to fight for one kingdom in particular, is given a leadership role, leads men into battle, has the best interest of his troops in mind (or at least seems to by his actions), etc.

    But in reality he's taking advantage of the war by helping to escalate it in order to achieve a particular goal. So on one side he's loyal and looks after his men, but on the other side he is basically putting their lives at risk intentionally because it serves a selfish purpose.

    So the reader is given this impression that the guy is a steadfast, battle-tested soldier with a sense of duty and has earned the respect of the soldiers he commands, etc., and at some point I want to shatter that illusion and then a short while after start to get into the reasons why he did what he did, but still leave it up to the reader to decide if he's truly as bad as he seems.
     
  15. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    1,072
    255
    63
    And that's basically what I'm challenging myself to do. If I can achieve that then I might have something worthwhile.
     
  16. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,947
    163
    I could be wrong, but doesn't the objective POV utilize a narrator that isn't in the story, or at least, narration by a character who isn't a major player? I think that narrative style is meant to be like an observer relaying the tale.

    Another thought.... Have you considered the use of an unreliable narrator? With this POV choice you could still tell the story through your MC's POV, where he intentionally misleads the reader in the telling of events. In this case, he might be telling white lies to the reader, while keeping true to main events, making himself appear altruistic when his true motives are anything but.

    That narration, though difficult to do well, might suit this character (now that you e described him in more detail).
     
  17. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    1,072
    255
    63
    Plenty of good options to consider here.

    Just to throw out a few things he might do:

    Bribe members of the nobility
    Arrange kidnappings
    Sabotage military forces
    Setup innocent people to be arrested/executed
    Hire mercenaries, thieves, bandits, etc., to carry out some of the dirty work
    Spread false information

    All that good stuff.

    I could see him donning different costumes and taking on the role of characters with very different personalities. A pious cleric, a flamboyant dandy in extravagant clothes, a beggar, a cook working in an important noble's castle, etc.

    The end game for him is a life and death sort of situation (he's basically trying to reclaim his soul, or something like that) so what he would do to win it all opens up a lot of possibilities.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,877
    1,978
    163
    It is more like "fly-on-the-wall," to borrow a description from the Wikipedia page, in which the reader feels himself to be a fly on the wall and the outside narrator disappears. Only objective description is given, untinged by bias. (Incidentally, even the more common intimate 3rd-limited approach has an outside narrator. In that case, the narrator typically attempts to disappear also, but is replaced by character voice/personality—edit: or, by objective description!)
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2016
  19. Jim Aikin

    Jim Aikin Scribe

    25
    7
    3
    Alfred Hitchcock once pointed out that suspense comes from what the reader (or in his case the viewer) DOES know, rather than from what the reader/viewer does not know. His example was this: You're watching a scene in which a man comes into a room, sits down at a table, and reads a newspaper for five minutes. At the end of the five minutes, a bomb mounted under the table explodes and kills him. That's not suspenseful -- it's boring. But now let's start the camera rolling one minute earlier. We see one man come into the room, mount a bomb under the table, and tiptoe out. A few seconds later, another man comes in, sits at the table, and starts reading the newspaper. Now it's suspenseful! The viewer spends five minutes practically jumping up and down in her seat, wanting to shout, "There's a bomb under the table!"

    Without having read your manuscript, I can't say how this approach would work. But Hitchcock was the master, so his advice is certainly worth contemplating.
     
  20. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,500
    1,556
    163
    I am reminded of one of the best WWII spy novels I ever read - an older work, whose title unfortunately escapes me.

    Anyhow, one of the principle characters was a Nazi spy. He had three ID's, each with their own persona's:

    A meek clerk who worked five days a week in a war bureau. His colleagues there believed he spent his weekends in London with his mother;

    In a coastal city, he was known as a longshoreman (if my hazy memory serves) helping to load and unload ships with military cargos. His companions thought he had legal trouble that kept him away much of the time.

    A sort of rake/smuggler persona, active only in the evenings, and not often even then.

    He was able to pull this off by *becoming* each different 'person' - each had their own mannerisms and viewpoints. Personality/attitude mattered more than personal appearance; the different forms of dress were mere props.
     
Loading...

Share This Page