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I am writing a story from a 3rd person perspective as the omniscient narrator. When my antagonist is revealed first, people believe him to be a certain person - X, not that any one says that to him or confirms with him but they believe it amongst themselves. This is a major plot point in the novel and serves a major twist later on. I would like to make my readers believe that he in fact is X and not Y.

Writing this is well and good from other character's POV but when I'm writing from the antagonist's POV, I find it hard. In fact, even introducing him at beginning of the chapter presents a difficulty. I'm trying to retain the illusion when writing from the antagonist's POV, what are some of the tips that you can suggest ?

E.g. - A cool wind blew, ruffling his hair as he moved forward towards his destination. The target had eluded him, for so long but finally, vengeance was his, X of the elvish clan. He was the foremost of the Forsworn and he would not be denied his revenge.

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This comes from a novice author, so take it with a pinch of salt, but here goes:

I'm not 100% clear which perspective you're writing from (you've mentioned omniscient as well as individual characters' POVs), but it sounds like you're using what's often called 'third-person limited'. The narrative says 'he/she', but follows the viewpoint and experiences of one character at a time. While you're with a given character, you're inside his/her head.

  1. When you're writing from the antagonist's perspective, he needs to be called by the name he uses for himself. Inside my head, I don't think of myself as 'the man', 'the skinny writer', 'the gormless manchild'. I think of myself as 'Andrew'.

  2. Therefore: whatever the antagonist calls himself inside his own head, that's what you have to call him, while the narrative is in his head. If you do anything else, you're cheating your readers and they'll ditch you.

  3. Say the antagonist's name is Lord Evildeeds. For simplicity's sake, say that's also how he thinks of himself. In the narrative, while you're in his perspective, you call him Lord Evildeeds.

  4. You want your readers to believe that Lord Evildeeds is Person X.

  5. Introduce them to the idea that a person X exists. Somewhere. Who could it be? They want to know! The mystery is driving your plot forward.

  6. Give them new information which suggests Lord Evildeeds is Person X. Don't say it outright! If you lie to them, you've cheated. The twist won't be satisfying. Give them just enough that they jump to the conclusion you want. However you do it, be clever. Be interesting. Make them piece multiple things together to work it out. Make it so good this itself feels like the twist. Never have Lord Evildeeds think 'I am Person X,' because he knows he's not, and you can't lie to them - you have to let your readers jump to that conclusion.

  7. Once you're back inside other characters' heads, you can say outright that Lord Evildeeds is Person X, if that's what they believe.

  8. When it's time for the reveal, give your readers new information. Something that shows, at last, that they jumped to conclusions. Lord Evildeeds was never Person X, he was Person Y! Your readers are flabbergasted. They are impressed with your cunning. They suspect you, the author, highly attractive to your chosen sex. Because you didn't lie to them, you just outsmarted them. They realise, in retrospect, that Lord Evildeeds never actually said he was Person X. Of course he didn't! He knew all along.

  9. However you set up the reveal at 8, it has to be even more clever and interesting than the reveal at 6. This is why they like your book.

  10. All of that: easier said than done? Erm... yes, probably. But that's why you want to be a writer, right?

Good luck!

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  • Thanks @Cakebox: That is a very detailed and descreptive answer although I'm not sure how i will have the readers reach - "you have to let your readers jump to that conclusion", when its from the antagonist's POV – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 18:04
  • Also, to correct your definition - 3rd person limited is - "Third person limited is, well, limited. The perspective is exclusively grounded to one character, unless you cheat a little." and 3rd person omniscient is "Third person omniscient is, ostensibly, a bit more freeing, because you aren't limited to a single character's perspective." and I'm definitely going for 3rd person omniscient....source - blog.nathanbransford.com/2012/11/… – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 18:07
  • @user96551 As usually used, third person limited is in one character's head at once, but often switches at scene or chapter breaks. I agree with you that in third person omniscient you can still be inside a character's head, it's just easier to move around, zoom in and out etc (whereas Cakebox seems to disagree). Then again, I'm not really a fan of this terminology at all, because it just seems so, well, limiting...! – DM_with_secrets May 22 at 11:31
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Don't name him in his own thoughts. (I'm going to add names here for ease of discussion.)

You have:

vengeance was his, Garth of the Bill clan. He was the Foremost of the Forsworn

But he's not actually Garth of the Bill clan. That's what he wants his enemy Dave to think. He's actually Wayne of the Ted clan. While Garth and Wayne are both Dave's enemies, Dave thinks it's Garth after him (because Wayne has framed him). Wayne wants to get rid of Dave and Garth, and he's doing it by setting Dave and Garth against each other.

So you use generic terms, and reference what Dave is thinking:

but finally, vengeance was his. He moved forward. The last thing Dave would see was Garth looming over him with the axe, ready to split his skull. And Debbie would run shrieking to the elders of the Carlin tribe that the Bill clan had begun their long-heralded attack at last.

Revenge would be cool and sweet, like fresh juice at the end of a long day's stalk. The man [or the hunter, the warrior, etc.] slipped forward through the long grass, barely parting the stalks.

The "revenge" is not just against Dave, but against Garth, because Dave's people, the Carlin tribe, will be going after Garth's people, the Bill clan. Neither will suspect Wayne. You can reveal that later. And you always refer to the antagonist in this scene with generic terms: the man, the hunter, etc.

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  • Thanks for the detailed answer. I thought about using this approach but don't I run the risk of making it appear as if the narrator is unreliable ? Me as the omniscient narrator, am supposed to know that he is not garth but is Wayne. – user96551 Jun 14 '16 at 5:04
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    @user96551 so what if the narrator is unreliable for a scene or two? If your goal is to mislead your readers for a little bit, because that will increase the impact of the reveal, you kind of have to bend the narrative reliability. If anything, that will make your readers pay more attention as the rest of the book goes on, once they realize that what they're reading might not be what they think they're reading. What's the downside? – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 14 '16 at 11:38
  • I'm sorry but I do not agree with your view...it's like I'm saying that "This is an Apple" and some chapters later I say, "It was a Mango". My readers will think that I'm bending the flow to suit my means. That is not something I want. That is not something I would enjoy as a reader, a writer who modifies any part of the story to suit its flow... – user96551 Jun 14 '16 at 17:52
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    @user96551 No, you're saying "This is a fruit. It's sweet and fragrant and goes well in salads. It's sometimes the color of grass, sometimes the color of sunset." That could be an apple, or it could be a mango. The reader doesn't know until the character tastes it. If your goal is "I would like to make my readers believe that he in fact is X and not Y," then you must mislead the reader's perception, withhold information, lie, or don't give the antagonist's POV. There's only so much you can do with your givens. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 14 '16 at 18:59
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    "don't I run the risk of making it appear as if the narrator is unreliable?" What's wrong with that? The unreliable narrator has a long history in fiction. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unreliable_narrator – RonJohn Mar 14 '19 at 6:50
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I would avoid using the antagonist's POV if you want him to remain a mystery. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, one of the main characters is referred to throughout as person X, but is eventually revealed as person Y in disguise. This only works (to the extent that it actually does) because the series sticks closely to Harry's POV.

If you're really dedicated to including significant amounts of the antagonist's POV, the only ways I see to do it well is for him to either actually be convinced he's X, or for him to be such a dedicated method actor that he habitually thinks of himself as X. It's tricky, but possible to pull off a scenario like that.

Other than that, you're limited to using brief sections of the antagonist POV that could work as well for X as for Y. The one good side of that is you could use those sections to drop subtle clues about the antagonist's true identity.

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  • While that would be the way to very cleanly do what I'm trying to do, I feel the readers won't be able to enjoy the various characters, I have created, so vividly. – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 18:26
  • Personally, I much prefer single POV narratives, and don't see them as lessening the enjoyment of non-POV characters, but since you don't feel the same way, I'll edit to respond. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 16 '16 at 18:56
  • Yes, thank you for the last line, that is a part of what I'm trying to achieve, hoping that some of my readers might be able to clue it together... – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 18:58
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Don't mislead the reader. It is a cheap trick that will leave the reader unsatisfied and disinclined to trust you as an author. This does not mean you cannot have surprise, but the surprise should be produced by the logical progress of the story, not by artificially withholding information.

Ask yourself, whose story is this. There may be surprises in the course of unfolding that person's story. They may be as surprising to the reader as they are to the character. But if you are telling a person's story and withholding information to create an artificial surprise for the reader alone, that is dishonest storytelling and the reader will not thank you for it.

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    That would make almost all suspense-thrillers, cheap tricks. You cannot generically brand all facades as cheap tricks without knowing the reason behind it. What if the misdirection adds to the story, allowing it to move forward and makes the end more oh-so satisfying ? In my story, the mislead allows the actual antagonist to emerge as a stronger person and pose an even formidable enemy. Personally, I feel that for giving the reader a more immersive experience, a strong storyline, vivid characters, and a grippping tale from start to end, a mislead is hardly a cheap trick. – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 18:20
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    I disagree. This is not about suspense, which depends on what is not known in the course of the story. It is about creating artificial suspense by withholding something that is known in the course of the story. That is not true suspense because the suspense does not exist in the structure of the story but in the artifice of the telling. Real suspense does not mislead the reader, it reveals the true source of suspense: that which is unknown in the context of the character's story. But if you have a crucial fact that is known to the POV character but withheld from the reader, that is a cheat. – user16226 Jun 16 '16 at 18:34
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    That would brand J.K.Rowling a cheat...to quote Chris below - "In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, one of the main characters is referred to throughout as person Y, but is eventually revealed as person X in disguise.". Tell me that reveal was not artful...Also.."withholding something that is known in the course of the story"...It is not like everyone in the story knows it and I'm telling my readers something else, my antagonist is an evil person and is leveraging the above fact which adds to his evil.... – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 19:06
  • And someone has to know the true source of suspense, if no one in the story knew it, that would make the reveal a Deus Ex Machina...a big No-No for me...In my case, the person knowing it is the antagonist... – user96551 Jun 16 '16 at 19:08
  • It depends on if the POV character knows that they are that person in disguise or not. If the POV character does not know, then that is genuine surprise in the story of that character. If the POV character knows and the reader does not, that is false surprise. One might make an exception for the case where POV character is deliberately keeping a secret, but even that feels cheap to me. – user16226 Jun 16 '16 at 19:10

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