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I have run into a bit of a dilemma in my current story.

The main character is on a journey to save her brother from the enemies. She suddenly finds that he is helping them willingly. Despite this evidence, she refuses to believe that he has betrayed her (her resolution is later shaken).

This scene is followed up with one from the brother's point of view. The scene is meant to reinforce the 'betrayal', along with supplying some information, but unfortunately it does the opposite.

The brother has actually been kept in the dark about what is going on, and therefore does not know that the people he is working with are actively hunting down his sister. During the scene, it is impossible to show that the brother doesn't know what is going on.

I need to make the reader think the brother has betrayed the sister, without showing the reader that the brother doesn't know what's going on. How can I do this?

Note: Before marking this question as too specific, the general question is that if you want the reader to believe the opposite of the truth, when the truth is very apparent, how can you do so?

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To paraphrase your question slightly, "How do your lie to the reader?"

Answer: you probably shouldn't. Once the reader distrusts you, it becomes impossible to achieve any effect at all.

What you are trying to do here to to create what I call artificial suspense. Real suspense is based on what the character does not know, and what cannot be known because it lies in the future. Artificial suspense is based on what the reader does not know because the writer does not tell them, or, in your case, overtly lies about it.

It is a kind of reverse irony. If dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows more than the character, you are trying to create reverse irony, which the character knows more than the reader. But while the reader can enjoy dramatic irony, they are in no position to enjoy reverse irony, and are primed to resent it when it is eventually revealed.

Not knowing the brother's affiliation is fine as long as the story is in the sister's point of view. But to switch to the brother's POV without revealing his affiliation, when you have just primed the reader to wonder about it, is an act of betrayal of the reader's trust. The reader is going to be very confused by this, may well feel that there is no reason to continue a narrative that they find confusing and untrustworthy.

So, while, you may find a way to accomplish you immediate goal, you will not find a way to do so without losing the reader's trust. Use time and POV to conceal information from the reader by all means, but don't lie to them.

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Do not hide it. That enemies are lying to the brother and that the brother is working against his sister are two separate things. He is hardly working with them because of something he doesn't know. Do not unnecessarily conflate them. Doubly so if that actually causes an issue to you.

Instead make the distinction clear by being clear about the reasons the brother works with the enemy and that the enemies are lying to him. As Mark Baker correctly noted the suspense from making it look like the brother knows what is going on is artificial. The suspense from the enemies lying to him by contrast is real. So is the suspense from whatever drove the brother and sister to work on different sides in the first place.

This will probably require you to spend more text fleshing out the brother, his motivations, his connection to the enemy, and his relationship with the sister, but if the MC has a goal of saving this particular brother it is probably effort well spent. As in : his motivations will almost certainly be relevant to her motivations.

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Disclaimer: I've had an idea on how to resolve my problem, but if you have a better idea, please post it.

You have a few options:

  • Remove the scene - Might work, but will remove the other information you need. You'll need to find a way to implement that information somewhere else.
  • Remove anything that would show the truth. Simply never show anything that shows how the brother doesn't know what's going on. The problem here is that the reader will wonder why the brother isn't interested in those things.
  • Play it vague - Use pronouns and clever wording to make it seem like the brother knows what is going on, when in reality he either does not or is talking about something else. Tricky, but might be your best option.

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