In a series I’m currently plotting out, I have a handful of characters who claim goals, allegiances, or identities that aren’t genuine. Examples include a minor antagonist who initially presents himself as an ally of Team Good, and a member of Team Good who tries to hide his past as a minion to the villain. My question is about how to make their reveals “click” rather than appearing random. Do you have any advice about how to hint that a character isn’t what they seem, without resorting to them making obviously revealing mistakes? I don’t want them to look incompetent, nor do I want their teammates to look incompetent for not catching on to them sooner.
Thank you so much for your time!
When an antagonist pretending to be on Team Good is obviously an antagonist, it’s usually because they have mannerisms that give them away. They’re an asshole, obviously manipulative, feel snakelike, or have other typical villain characteristics. The answer is just to let your hidden antagonist be more clever and charming than that. It’s not in the antagonist’s best interest to come off like a villain! Instead, let them act like a good friend and set up the reveal by foreshadowing their motivation for betraying the group. For instance, you might establish they have gambling debts that they’re on the hook for, giving them a reason to sell the others out. But a character who has gambling debts and a few shady connections could just as easily be a scrappy hero prone to a little mischief, like Han Solo.
Speaking of which, the biggest trick to hiding foreshadowing is simply to make what you’re doing look like it fits a different story trope or convention. That character who’s trying to hide their past as a minion? If they get a dark look whenever the villain is mentioned, some kind of history with the villain will be evident, but everyone will reasonably assume that their family was murdered by the villain or something. When readers learn the character is actually a former minion who broke with the villain, it will be surprising but also fit.
- You don’t have to provide so many clues that readers who notice them can put two and two together. You only have to provide enough context that the reveal fits what they’ve learned.
- Any clues you put in will be more obvious to you than readers. Readers never notice as much as you think they will.
You might get more ideas from my post on hiding your foreshadowing.
Best of luck with all your fun reveals!