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This is a sort of act related question. I have an important drug that causes the protagonist to encounter people and things he normally wouldn't, and it is the foundation of a convoluted plan by the antagonist. The drug is fantastical, causing others to experience what the protag hallucinates, essentially making it real as more and more people believe it is. Otherwise, the world is 'real life.'

Do I need to introduce the fantasy concepts in the first act outright, or is hinting at their existence sufficient? I want the reveal that he's been poisoned to come out of nowhere at the end of the story and turn it all around, but even suggesting such a drug could exist in acts 1 and 2 would instantly tip the audience off that the mystery isn't genuine.

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It will be very hard to write this in a way that doesn't feel like a cheat. However, in my experience as a reader, endings that feel emotionally real can get away with tying all sorts of pretzels in logic. What this means is that if the problems and challenges posed in the "drug-world" are all resolved prior to the big reveal, the book will still feel complete, whereas if the problems and challenges are solved by "oh it was all just a hallucination," people will want to toss your book out a window.

A good model is the Wizard of Oz (movie version). The entire adventure is a dream, but it has a beginning, middle and end within the dream. Dorothy can't escape her story in the middle (despite unknowingly having the means to do so), she has to complete her quest. After that, finding out it's a dream doesn't make the viewer feel cheated.

You might also make it so that the protagonist is able to gradually figure out what is happening prior to the reveal --this matches dream logic, where figuring out it's all a dream is typically the cue for the dream to end. This way he is working for his release from the drug world, rather than just getting it handed to him on a platter.

  • So maybe introduce/reveal the existence of this drug halfway through in a way that fits previous unusual events and lines from suspicious characters, then allow the false events to build to a satisfying conclusion, as it doesn't matter if they're 100% real as long as the protagonist faces meaningful personal drama and change. – T. Pennant Aug 31 '16 at 18:58
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My feeling is that you should hint at it, so that it doesn't feel like a deus ex machina, but write your story and show it to some beta readers asking about that in particular. If you hint too strongly, it becomes obvious, but if you don't mention anything about this drug until the protagonist receives it, it shatters the suspension of disbelief.

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Well. In my opinion you should do what feels right for the story and not thinking so much of the reader. When you finish your novel, then you will have a better look on the whole story and might edit if you find something could be better. I think you should consider the following when you choose. If your drug is only to catalyst for the interesting events then I think you should reveal most of it sooner in the story as it is a Macguffin - nothing so important just a cause. But if you want the drug to play an important role in the story then you should not raise the mystery very early - reveal only what is needed for the story to unfold. In conclusion what I can say in your case is if you want the readers surprised and keeping the mystery then just suggest of this effect by the drug but in order to grab the attention from the beginning then think of another effect that the drug does - maybe it is the intended effect and the fact that it affects the real world is like a side effect that is revealed later. Hope this helps.

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Describing a psychedelic experience is inherently difficult. You might try weaving in some behavioral changes seeming out of place as your hints something is amiss. If you wait to the reveal, you'll miss out on the fantastical and spiritual elements accompanying hallucinosis. Does your character know where he's getting his visions from? Is he receiving commands via auditory hallucinations? Whose commands? God's? You get the picture.

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