My story involves a kind of plot-twist towards the end. The problem is that the one of the sources of the misdirection comes from a kind of "Story so far" chapter towards the beginning.

It sets up what all the characters know (or at least think they know) about the last few years of a journey they have been on, during which events have happened unbeknownst to (most of) the characters, and other things didn't happen the way the characters believe they did. But the chapter is a summary to explain all this to the reader.

The story itself starts three years into the journey.

The problem is this. I want the reader to have similar knowledge to the characters, so they will be surprised by the reveal.

But I can't have the narrator simply lie to the reader, or leave out vital information that would obviously appear in a "how we got here" summary without it being silly or feeling contrived.

(e.g. it would be like in a novelisation of The Sixth Sense, the author describing in detail Bruce Willis'

operation after he was shot and heavily implying that it was a success.


  • 1
    The first question that occurs to me is, why do you need that story so far chapter? And if you do need it, what story exactly is it telling. If it is telling an objective history, why? If it is telling the story of one or more characters who are no aware of the secret, then why does it need to tell the secret?
    – user16226
    May 24, 2016 at 14:34

4 Answers 4


But I can't have the narrator simply lie to the reader

Sure you can. That's called an unreliable narrator.

Instead of having a generic narrator-to-reader chapter, your "The Story So Far" material can be delivered via some other medium, or two characters who aren't in your story otherwise. It can be a newspaper article, a series of emails, a radio broadcast, two people talking, a lecture, or anything else.

So have a history teacher talking to a class. Write the introduction to a thesis. Make it a religious sermon, or a mom talking to her child, telling the child The Story So Far.

Any of these narrators have the potential to be unreliable — to edit, to omit, to lack information, to embroider, to editorialize. Your reader gets just the information you want, and you haven't outright lied.

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    A problem is that the only characters who could know enough to speak with authority on the matter would not be deemed trustworthy by the reader. Accepted this answer because your multiple examples gave me the idea to have many sources "confirm" the lie throughout the story based on their assumptions that it's the truth.
    – komodosp
    Jun 3, 2016 at 8:46
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    @colmde "A problem is that the only characters who could know enough to speak with authority on the matter would not be deemed trustworthy by the reader." Cassandra narrators. I love it. That's even more fun. Jun 3, 2016 at 10:04

You appear to be writing your "the story so far" from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, hence your concern abut lying. Instead, describe events through a character lens.

You can do this by writing these parts from the point of view of a particular character -- treat it as a speech, diary, or other thing that the character wrote. Another way to do that is to narrate rather than tell:

The story so far: Bob and Carol have identified the fingerprints found at the murder scene and tracked the killer to his lair. During a long stake-out they watched the housekeeper come and go. Late that night they saw a man emerge, face covered by his hoodie, and drive away. Carefully they followed, headlights off, to see where the trail led.

Unbeknownst to them, Bob and Carol should have been paying more attention to the housekeeper -- the man in the car is a red herring. You know that, but they don't -- and neither does your reader.


Oh man, it really bugs me when all the characters know a secret but I don't. It feels deceptive and manipulative.

What works is to have a character who's also ignorant of the secret. Tell the story from their perspective. Then the reveal is not pointed at the reader, but at the character.

In The Sixth Sense Bruce Willis is that ignorant character. The twist is revealed to him. We, the viewers, witness it and feel it from his perspective.

  • In my case most of the characters don't know the secret. However there is one particular chapter that goes through the history of until "now" (the beginning of the story) which has nothing to do with any specific character, it's more "general knowledge" but it isn't being explained to any character, it's just narrator to reader.
    – komodosp
    May 24, 2016 at 13:08

Put the backstory into the mouth of a character, rather than narration.

If I opened, say, a mystery story, and it began, "Fred Smith murdered his brother John," I would understand that to mean that that is what actually happened. If later in the story I read that in fact Fred didn't kill John, I'd be turning back to that page and saying, "Wait, but back here you told me he did. What is this?"

Likewise, weasel words in a narration are a giveaway. If you wrote, "Everyone believed that Fred Smith murdered his brother John", I'd understand that to mean that he didn't, but everyone thought he did.

But the problem completely goes away if you have a character say it. If in a mystery story I read, "The detective said, 'Fred Smith murdered his brother John'", that might or might not turn out to be true.

I expect the narration of a story to be true -- "true" within the story's world of course, not necessarily in rea life. So if the narration says that a character said X, I understand that to mean that he really did say X. But I readily accept that he may have been lying or mistaken when he said X.

Note this only applies to a third-person narrator. With a first-person narrator, I understand the narration to be what that person knows or believes, which may or may not be true.

Some stories stretch this point by having hallucinations or dreams or the like described as if they were real, and then saying, no, that was a dream. In a story about a character who cannot distinguish his hallucinations from reality, this can be effective. Done well it can be effective. Done poorly it's lame and readers will get annoyed that they never know what's supposed to be real and what's supposed to be an illusion.

(I'm suddenly reminded of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- a classic of Western fiction that will no doubt go down in history with Shakespeare -- where Buffy's mother collapses, Buffy calls an ambulance, the paramedics revive her mother, you see her with her mother in the hospital ... and suddenly the scene snaps and her mother is lying dead on the living room floor and you realize that was all her pleasant delusion. My daughter said she thought it was obvious and lame. I thought it was very effective. So it's reader's point of view.)

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