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I'm currently working on a book with two protagonists and switching the perspective between them. They have quite different plotlines, but actually they're the same person. English is not my first language, and in my language a subject always has a gender-neutral word. But I'm afraid my readers will feel cheated by the revelation/twist.

How to avoid this and make it believable?

  • Hey @GilangBintang Welcome to Writers.SE make sure you take the tour to get some insight on what to ask/ how to formulate great questions. – JP Chapleau Apr 23 '18 at 12:26
  • I (sadly) haven't read the book, but I assume the Count of Monte Cristo could provide some tips for pulling this off. – Reinstate Monica Apr 23 '18 at 17:38
  • Why is the gender-neutral word relevant? – Tim B Apr 23 '18 at 20:41
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    I think you should clarify what's going on. Is it: 1) the protagonist switches between the two plot lines and is unaware of it, or 2) the protagonist switches between the two plot lines and is aware of it, but is concealing it from the reader for some reason, or perhaps 3) one plot line is a flashback and the other is not (so the protagonist knows about what happened in plot line B during plot line A, but not vice versa)? Or something else entirely? – Micah Apr 24 '18 at 1:39
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    Needs more information. Is it a split-personality thing? Is the protagonist aware of his two sides? Is it the same timeline? – Tom Apr 24 '18 at 7:19
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Do you mean a Jekyll/Hyde plot? Such a plot twist needs some amount of foreshadowing, so that the savvy reader might suspect, while the less savvy reader would have a moment of "Aha! now it all makes sense!"

Such foreshadowing can come in the form of information that Jekyll receives and Hyde responds to, Hyde doing things that would be in one way or another beneficial to Jekyll but Jekyll would never do, Jekyll avoiding conversations about Hyde, etc. (All of this works regardless of whether they're a good/evil duo like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, or any other distinction between them.)

Another important point would be that they can't be at two places at once. So Jekyll might be unable to make an appointment, for example, with no good explanation, the real reason being that he's busy as Hyde.

  • i never knew this was the dynamic between Jekyll/Hyde. I only know the characters from pop culture and it seems like jekyll and hyde have cat and mouse dynamic. Great suggestion! But im afraid reading that book will affect my thinking. – gibihakkasy Apr 26 '18 at 4:05
  • Also really like the idea where those 2 characters subtlely have connection and consequences from the other's action. And i think that's the key to avoid the reader felling cheated. Thanks! – gibihakkasy Apr 26 '18 at 4:24
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There are many ways to do this, and for just as many reasons why this can make perfect sense. Let's start with popular means, and look at the reasons this makes sense.

Disclaimer: I don't know enough about the story you are working on to offer advice catered to it (otherwise your question is apt to be closed as too 'in-story'). So I offer some general suggestions that could offer the angle you desire, and you may tweak it until it fits.

Fight Club, in which a man finds out he's both protagonist and antagonist. He has Multiple Personalities (Dissociative Personality Disorder) one of which is the protagonist, the other is the antagonist. Yes, it's very dependent on psychology, but it's quite effective as used here.

Bane and Shadow, by Jon Skovron. In which one of the protagonists is 'magically altered', and brainwashed, to be controlled by the antagonists to do their dirty work. He doesn't realise he's the bad guy while under their influence, and has no memory of his deeds while under their power. While this also has a very psychological undertone, it's done quite well in my opinion.

Now. What I suggest, if you do not wish to take a more psychological approach (though, it does offer exactly what you want), there are options.

First, you can consider either making simply putting the protagonist into very different situations. Fact is, we react differently to different situations. You can do this with time, literally having the two storylines play out a decade apart. A lot can happen in ten years, and we could become someone we barely recognise if the events leading up to that drastic change are significant.

You could also have this person be a 'spy' of some sort, needing to repress certain thoughts and aspects of their self in order to fly under the radar.

You can also have a genderfluid person, though I don't advise this, for the purpose of it being a bit misleading in its entirety. Meaning, it gives people an incorrect view of what genderfluid is (and while that isn't something I believe should be done, it is an option all the same).

Another rather interesting aspect, and one I've seen done really well, is with a transgender person. Using the same 'different timeline' suggestion as above, you can show them in one timeline as "pre-transition" and "post-transition", which would usually mean the world reacts differently to them because of the perceived difference (difference in appearance). This would allow for a certain amount of growth, and it could offer a solid reasoning why the same person reacts differently.

  • Great suggestion! But my protagonist is well aware of his action and know that he's living 2 life. i've read fight club, and i suspect Bane and Shadow have more or less the same dynamic, but in these book the protagonist did not aware of the different lives and action. – gibihakkasy Apr 26 '18 at 4:17
  • Then you can do a 'spy setting', where the MC must repress thoughts to ensure they don't appear on their face. – Fayth85 Apr 26 '18 at 12:20
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Well, perhaps focus on different sides of the character's life. If one plot revolves around family/friends/a love interest and the other plot revolves around a mystery, let the different plots bring forth different sides of your main character.

One strategy could also be to let other characters call your main character different nicknames depending on which plot is evolving - One person can have one nickname in one group and another name in another.

Futhermore, if your main character is placed in different scenarios in the different plots (which we could assume they are), they would also mentally think differently about their experiences and the feelings connected to them.

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    Really great suggestion! i like the idea of putting forward the different circumstances of the protagonist. since we actually will act differently in different circumstances. – gibihakkasy Apr 26 '18 at 4:22
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One way to do this would be the way the movie "Fight Club" did it.

In that movie the main character is a passive person who meets a very active person. This person convinces him to set up a fight club where people come to voluntarily fight each other. Things get out of control, and little clues start building up and the MC realizes almost too late that he is both characters.

Another way to do this is to have the MC act out two different lives or parts of his/her life. For example, the character could be a young woman in love in one plot line, and the leader of a revolution in another.

I think one key to doing this without turning off the reader is to leave little hints, especially if the character isn't doing this on purpose or by insanity. The character may just be very focused and not normally think of the other part of their life.

For example, the young woman in love is reading the paper and is happy that the revolution is winning instead of thinking of them as terrorists. Perhaps when reading she knows just a bit more than she should know from the article, or contradicts a TV report to her family. Perhaps the leader of the revolution is wearing a piece of jewelry that was given to the young woman by her husband.

Another key is to have the plot lines eventually converge. Perhaps the antagonist realizes who the leader of the revolution is and starts a move to arrest everybody in the young lady's house, or to bomb it.

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