1. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    When to reveal "The big secret" to the reader?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Shbooblie, Dec 19, 2015.

    I'm writing in 1st person from my MC's perspective. He has a secret but he's not just going to tell any old someone about it! Problem is I don't know when to reveal it to the reader.

    He is on the defense a lot of the time and I had originally intended him to be the same way with the reader so he can gradually reveal little bits here and there until you get the full picture, in a similar way to the way he reveals himself to the secondary character.

    Only thing is to do this it would mean I have to give half of the story and then go back so it would be like:

    MC: Remember when I told you that I tried to kill myself but it failed, well get this it's not cause I got saved in the nick of time but ohoo it's actually 'cause I can't freakin' die. Oh remember how I told you I was bribing doctors for little parcels that made me feel good, it was actually blood and it made me feel good cause I'm a freakin' vampire and it meant I wasn't hungry and didn't want to kill people all the time.

    Obviously not in the form of an info dump as above.
    Also doing this means I get to have less fun with it with regards to hiding it from the secondary character. He can tell you he's hiding something but not what it is and that kind of removes the stakes (pardon the pun) so the reader doesn't really know what he's got to lose.

    I still want to do a gradual reveal sort of deal, but I don't know how far to go. I don't want people to know the whole thing straight away cause I like the sort of stories where you are kept guessing. I also don't want to take it too far so the reader is like - "he's a vampire? What the fudge this is stupid" *slams shut*.

    How do I get the right balance?
     
  2. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I would love get little bits and pieces as a reader. If you do this in a skillful way I would take note of that something is going on which was not as it appeared to be. I.e. this line with the parcels: you could have your MC discussing drug problems with his friend, having real strong opinions on no drug abuse, right after the parcels get introduced. If you lead the secondary character along like that with each little inconsistency he will be less sure that all is as it appears to be with the MC. Also the reader would have the lovely experience, when reading the book a second time, that he would discover each little secret you drop new. I know I love this when I find these little references spread out in text, reading multiple times through the book just so that I can find everything :)

    My two cents. Good luck! :)
     
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  3. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Thanks @Lifeline, that is really helpful and is exactly what I was wanting to do with regards to the little references here and there. So he'll say he's tried every illicit substance going but only the ones he gets from the doctor give him any relief then mention a few of the ingredients (like EDTA, which stops blood clotting). Then show him being violently sick after trying to eat some food, the vomit is mostly blood, he get's his "medicine" to settle his stomach because he has "food allergies". So he's told a lie to his friend which contradicts the one he's told to the reader so hopefully the reader's going "ahh wait, that's not right" and then that leads to them trying to guess what's going on.

    Is that enough, coupled with a few other things (like allergic to sunlight, avoiding talking about his past etc) to give some pretty solid hints as to what's up before I drop the v bomb on the reader about mid-way through the story?
     
  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Don't assume the reader is stupid :D
    I mean you are writing fantasy.. anyone who has ever had the most casual acquaintance with it will be able to make the connection (disclaimer: I hope ;) ).

    Your book will just need more immersion than some others out there, and is that a bad thing? I for one love it when I am pulled in and get hints, which eventually point in one direction. You are definitely thinking in the right direction for my taste, but maybe wait around a bit to get some other opinions also - my own is not the sole valid one (even if I sometimes get carried away in my own head ;) )

    Edit: But be careful about medical details. I for one am not educated about all these details you mentioned :)
     
  5. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    I keep telling myself to remember the reader will be able to form their own opinions on things so I don't have to explain absolutely everything!:D (It's a problem for me, I sometimes over-explain things)

    I won't include too many medical details but I've got a few references to throw in just to show how he's been doing research on his condition. He's not a doctor though so it won't be too clinical hopefully.
    As long as I know I can please a few people, myself included (hopefully the majority but we'll see if I get any more opinions coming through on the matter), then I'll be happy! I've heard you should write the story you want to read which is exactly what I'm doing or at least trying to do!
     
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  6. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Ouch, don't remind me of a current discussion with my Beta ;) We are of different opinions how many details should be included and in what kind of setting (i.e. the nearer to the start the better or thrown in piecemeal, and how much of it).. if you want to continue this off-topic discussion drop me a PM :)

    But yes, write the story that would best please you as a reader. Try not to jeopardize yourself with regard to obvious style problems (i.e. POV's and all the rest) but in all else - fly free :D
     
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  7. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Thanks Lifeline, I'll drop you a PM sometime after work :)
     
  8. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    No hurry, I will be here all night :) while my backbrain broods over the storyline, with occassional a yelp thrown in when something makes sense :D
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The first question I asked myself when I read the OP was ...is your main character who is keeping this secret also your POV character? In other words, are we in this character's head during the story, or are we seeing this character from somebody else's perspective?

    The trickiness in revealing a secret is more complicated for the writer to pull off if the secret - keeping person is the one whose head we are in during the story. In essence, this character will be lying to the reader, which can annoy the reader if it's not skillfully handled.

    If somebody else is "telling" the story, though,it won't matter so much when you reveal a secret some other character is keeping. Just do what seems best for your story flow.
     
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  10. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    The MC is my POV character which is why I'm in a pickle. I don't want him to explicitly lie to the reader although he could simply withhold information that would completely give the game away but there's only so much of that you can do before it gets old I think.
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Shbooblie - Yeah, that's tricky. And I've experienced something like this myself, when I wrote my novel. I also had a character who was keeping important things to himself, although he wasn't the main POV character. However, it turned out the fact he WAS keeping a secret—from the reader as well as the other characters—was blindingly obvious. Nobody guessed what the secret was, so I was able to do the Big Reveal at the end, as planned, but my original beta readers got so fed up being kept dangling that some of them dropped off the branch before they ever got to that point.

    Lesson : the Big Reveal isn't worth it, if your readers get annoyed by the game playing and have stopped reading the story by the time they get to it. OR they didn't expect what happens and feel cheated, because the POV character—whose head they were supposedly in—didn't let on what his real nature was. Can you keep a secret from yourself? In essence, that's what's happening if a POV character withholds information from the reader. I'm not saying this trick can't work, but it is very hard to pull off.

    I solved my own problem fairly simply. I wrote a prologue (the last chapter I wrote!) which showed the event that my character was keeping secret. Therefore, while the other characters were as baffled as I wanted them to be, the reader was in the know about the secret, right from the start. This manoevre totally turned the story on its head. Instead of working towards the Big Reveal, the readers knew his secret at the beginning. The suspense came from watching how he handled his past life, and wondering what was going to happen when it all came out in the wash and the other characters found out. It was a big improvement to the story flow, I can assure you.

    Maybe you could re-think your approach and let the reader in on the secret right at the start? The let us watch what happens when none of your other characters guesses it.

    It never hurts to think via an entirely new perspective.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
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  12. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    In my writing experience, which is not much yet, it seems to me that the best time to make the big reveal, is when you cannot hide it anymore. There comes a time when the reader is going to have to figure it out, otherwise you will have to to confusing lengths to continue to hide it, and if it gets to the point of two confusing, then it may be time to reveal it then. Not sure if that helps, but that is just what I think so far.
     
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  13. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Ahh darn I had a whole response typed up but my phone has went and glitched it away. I'll edit this into. This proper response when I get access to a computer. Just want to say thanks for everyones input! :)
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Having just edited my first chapter yet again (because my writing skills are improving by the day), I deleted little bits of backstory that were still there but which I realized weren't needed. I killed a lot of darlings but the end result was so much more professionally written, I am pleased.

    There are so many things in our stories that we think, this is important, the reader needs this. But they don't need to know it up front. They can discover it later.

    I wouldn't try to find the best place in the story for the big reveal. I would write the story and where the secret was discovered by the character you want to reveal it to is where it belongs.

    I agree completely with the comment above that readers (me anyway) will get annoyed if you drag it out too long, especially if the person discovering the secret has to be stupid not to know what's going on.

    You want to reveal it where is fits in the story. For example, (kind of tropey, I know) your vampire can be doing a good job keeping the secret until he has to decide between revealing it and letting someone get injured. Less cliché might be for the vampire to get caught drinking blood or something.

    Don't worry about the fact you want the reader to know the secret, or the reader to know the other character now knows the secret. Instead, reveal it at the place it moves the story forward. Where does the story work with the secret kept and where must the secret be known for the next chapter to work?
     
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  15. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    That's a really good point you made @GingerCoffee, I need to make a chart I think of all my key events and just decide when it comes out naturally. I have it now coming out after he bites his friend whilst she's sleeping cause the doctors cut his supply. He decides to tell her and the reader the whole deal with him at the same time.
    @jannert thank you for replying your response was so insightful and definitely gives me a lot more to think about.

    I'm still not 100% where to place it so I'm going to mull it over and read through my stuff a few more times and see where I think it sits right - then it'll be up to my betas ( in about 10 years time at this rate! XD) to tell me if they agree with the placement.

    @Ryan Elder your post makes a lot of sense, no use trying to make it work hiding things if it just doesn't work!
     
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  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well some stories will go to great lengths to keep the twist hidden till the end, to the point where the reader will ask what the heck is going on for the a lot of story. Then when it is finally revealed, the writer has to pile on a lot of flashbacks and explanation, just so the reader can catch up, and it's a long catch up. This kind of puts the story on pause cause the reader needs to have it all explained and catch up, rather than revealing the twist earlier, in a more natural way, that the reader will understand it, as it's revealed. If this makes sense.

    But some stories still save the twist to the end, and still put the story on pause to go back and explain it. The movie The Sixth Sense comes to mind as one that did this successfully.
     
  17. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    For me the "big secret" is revealed on the last page.
    Two members of my critique group have caught on that something is going on outside the main storyline, but have not pieced together what it is yet.

    As a reader, I hate it when the secret is out before the last chapter. There should be hints along the way to make you wonder, what's going on over there? But not so much information that you figure it out early then end up being disappointed with what becomes an anti-climatic ending.
     
  18. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    I hear you @KhalieLa, sort of like in fight club with the plot twist at the end. It wouldn't have worked as a story if it had been revealed any sooner.

    The trouble with my story is that we are in this characters head so hiding it gets a bit tedious and repetitive. There's also more story that needs to come after the big reveal in order to get to the ending I want so I don't think it can be left to the very end. The reader would be more confused I think by leaving it to the end than they would be annoyed at the ending were it to be revealed earlier.

    It would sort of be like "everything that happened in this book was because I am a vampire. The end." :D And I think that would be the worst thing I could do, not to say it can't work in other stories though, I'd be interested to read yours sometime @KhalieLa :), it sounds intriguing.
     
  19. jannert
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  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm reading The Girl on the Train where the narrator is an alcoholic with fantasies so the reader is unsure if any/everything she sees is real or in her head. It's well done, you never now what's real and what isn't.

    Wiki with spoilers
     
  21. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Thank you so much @jannert and @GingerCoffee. I'll have a look at those links :)
     
  22. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    But how is one suppose to save a secret reveal till the last chapter where at the same time, still not have it come off as self aware or pretentious. For example, in my current story, I revealed the big twist about halfway through. If I were to save it till the end, I would have to keep the villain nameless, just so the reader did not know who the villain is, since all the characters know, and there is no way that they couldn't have. I would have to call the character 'the mystery man', or 'the faceless man'. Then at the end I would have to reveal that the mystery man was actually 'Frank Foley', all along. The readers would then be like 'WTF, the mystery man and frank foley were the same character all along? Why didn't the writer just say that, instead of leading us to believe he was writing about a different character altogether'. And plus I would have to rewrite all the dialogue so it's all said in a way, without the characters saying the villain's name to each other, which could come off as very unnatural.

    That is just an example, but I am saying if you keep the twist hidden for too long, to the point where you have to go to such lengths to mislead the reader, the reader could very well feel jerked around by the end, wouldn't you say?
     
  23. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I think it depends on how much is going on in your story. If you are writing for young readers you need to keep your plot and story line simple because they won't be able to hold all the pieces in their heads. If you are writing for older readers, so you can pack a lot into a novel.

    My readers think the plot revolves around a woman who needs to produce an heir and really doesn't want too. There is domestic turmoil and squabbling among the clans that needs dealt with and some resolution over who gets to rule. That is set against a backdrop of an over reaching good vs evil quest type thing. Throw in a couple of wizards for comic relief and that is enough to keep the reader entertained.

    Now the really important stuff is hinted at OUTSIDE of those storylines. The reader thinks, huh, I wonder what that was all about? Just give them enough to keep them wondering somewhere in the back of their minds. Once the ruler had been named, the heir born, and evil conquered, then you can tell them what the really important bit was and they will say, "Oh, now it makes sense."

    What you describe above sounds like normal information that will come out in the course of the story. My whore needs to figure out that she is riding with a bunch of nobles who have been banished long before I introduce squabbling among the clans. Likewise they need to meet the evil dudes long before they learn what the evil dudes want. They want the whore; why? You have to wait a couple chapters to find out why. And at some point someone needs to have sex. A plot twist is just that, a twist. It keeps the reader engaged and entertained, but it's not the big secret, the big secret you save for the end.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2015
  24. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    This is exactly the problem I was facing a few days ago. I figured it out, I think, by avoiding the MC's thoughts and deliver his 'reader privy' POV info only through dialogue.

    But alas then a bigger issue jumped on me. :( (new thread in char dev: bad guy as MC)
     

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