I’m trying to write a story with the main character having a hidden motivation, and I would appreciate any advice on the matter.
Here’s a basic outline of my story:
Initially, it seems like the hero wants money (for noble reasons, of course). She’ll go through the motions to get it (using her status as prophet of her religion and playing the two religions of her kingdom against each other), and at the midpoint (I’m writing a movie screenplay), she’ll reveal that she actually wants to destroy all religion, and the adjacent consequences of the money scam (one of the two religions is destroyed) were just the first stage of her plan. With this true motivation uncovered, she’ll create a cult and then take out all of the religious people in the kingdom, pied-piper style.
How do I pull off a change in motivation, especially when the change should make people switch from rooting for my main character to turning against her?
Revealing a deceptive protagonist’s motivation is a really tricky thing to do, but in a movie, it’s at least possible to pull that off while maintaining engagement. (I would not recommend this for a novel.) You need a character that’s really good at acting and has a reason to engage in deception, thereby deceiving both the audience and the other characters. All of the actions she takes onscreen have to be consistent with both her presented motivation and her hidden one. And you have to foreshadow adequately. Again, real tricky.
However, I don’t think the switch from rooting for her to rooting against her will work out even in a best case scenario. Because audiences get attached to the main character, this is likely going to be an upsetting experience. Viewers will also be left without anyone to care about, which could make the movie boring even if it has lots of action.
For this reason, she’d make a better surprise antagonist. If she were the mentor or best friend of the hero, she could seem like a close ally before she shows her true colors. Then, the audience can keep rooting for the hero. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be interested in this option though. Based on what you put in your question, it feels like you really like this character.
Another option is to make her a villainous protagonist – meaning viewers should continue to root for her after the reveal. If you make those religions really bad, viewers will want to see them burn down, so they’ll tolerate more from her. Giving her a big personal reason for revenge will also help viewers side with her. However, you still probably don’t want to show her murder innocent and sympathetic people right onscreen.
In this case, you’d make it look like she’s about to die at the hands of those religions around the climax, and then show how her villainous side gives her an ace up her sleeve. Hey look, she was secretly building up her own cult – commence with the burning!
I’d recommend doing the reveal later than the midpoint. Based on what you said, I’m guessing that after the reveal, she’ll look much more powerful. I think you’d end up losing too much tension if that were done during the rising action phase of the film. A typical heist film is a good model for the timing you want. It always looks like everything has failed before the hero’s secret plan is revealed at the climax.
However, if you choose to make her an antagonist, the reveal will raise tension, so the midpoint isn’t a bad choice.
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Comments on How Do I Reveal That My Movie Hero Is Really a Villain?
There are stories without “Heroes” like the spionage one, you can root for one side or another but that don’t make them heroic, all intelligence services are the same, a bunch of fanatics doing whatever it takes to accomplish objectives. That’s why i make my story about a personal revenge. Noone would root for a Spec ops turned mercenary; despite his kind personality in his private life he usually kills people for a living, and his own justifications for doing it range greatly from “the greater good” to “it’s just a job” and “he was a really really bad person and i didn’t like him” making him a complex character. In a context of a grey on grey morality story there is always a good reason to do anything.
That being said, i don’t think that “lying” to the audience is a good thing. If the character’s goal is to destroy religions we should know from the get go.
The best way i see to handle it is to take over the other religion (destroying a faith is almost impossible and i don’t know how you’d achieve it) and then reveal as the Prophet that everything is false, making people losing faith on it.
Killing people never got rid of religions. Unless you kill everyone, of course.
I recently watched a film where a protagonist deceived the other (I guess I can’t say which film,or it would be a spoiler). Seems to me the key that made it work there is that there were two concurrent protagonists, and only one of them turned. This allowed the audience to continue having at least one sympathetic person on the screen to root for.
Making the traitor very charismatic also certainly helped!
I’m a little confused, your protagonist wants to “destroy all religion” but you also have her starting another one. Are these religions especially bad? How is destroying these religions wrong? You may also want to be careful about how you’re portraying the nonreligious as well. Perhaps make her a loyal follower of a third religion and wants to make that the dominate one.
Yeah. There’ld have to be some kind of terminology like “magic cult” or “self-help cult” or perhaps “thralls of brainwashing” (even “techno-zombies” could work) or otherwise everyone will just assume that “cult” is shorthand for “religious cult” which in turn makes “destroy all religions”, seem, ill considered.
This is a cool concept, I like it. I also think if you had a character that is a more likeable antagonist could help, so you’d still have a character to root for after the switch. So perhaps they’d be annoying at the start because they act as a hinderance to the ‘hero’ but are still likeable, and then after the hero’s reveal, the ‘antagonist’ is then seen to be the actual hero once the audience gets the full context. And then the antagonist can still be defeated in the end, but I think that could be a really interesting journey for the reader, and hopefully they aren’t left bored, even if their allegiance keeps shifting.
And I love the advice given about making all actions consistent with the pre and post revealed character. I hate when characters present themselves a certain way specifically to deceive the audience, assuming the character isn’t aware of the existence of the audience – it clearly is just lazy writing to try to trick the reader/watcher.
Anyway, good luck! I hope you succeed!