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My trilogy features two important characters that I wish to keep the identities of hidden. The first is the series' deuteragonist, who is heavily implied to be Jeanne d'Arc (yes, THAT Jeanne d'Arc), who for reasons unknown decided to use her sister's forename and mother's maiden name as a pseudonym to disguise her identity from the main protagonist. Jeanne's identity eventually revealed via a series of flashbacks/dream sequences written from the protagonist's perspective that recount major events from Jeanne's life, which are completely devoid of dialogue (because I have no real way to justify why characters featured these flashbacks would be able to speak perfect modern English). Although, I'm trying to not make the protagonist look like a complete and utter fool because one of his major traits is his in-depth knowledge of world history and mythology and a major plot point is him trying to discover Jeanne's identity.

The second character is Loki, who acts as the trilogy's secondary antagonist and throughout the series, the audience is given hints about his identity. For example, Loki goes by the name of Hveðrungr, until he reveals himself towards the end of the series and several of the Norse myths are sometimes alluded to in several conversations.

How, then, can I disguise the identities of these characters?

EDIT: This trilogy of mine is set in modern time

  • Before I can answer anything in these question: What is your setting? Modern days? The past? An alternate world? – Pawana Jun 27 '18 at 6:36
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    Who are you trying to keep the identities of these characters from? Your readers or the other characters in the book? – robertcday Jun 27 '18 at 9:08
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Doing this in-character is actually easier than doing it with the audience. Having characters rationalise answers that "make more sense" is easy, especially in the case of a Norse god walking the waking world. The final revelation is that much sweeter when they suddenly understand what they've been missing for the last however long.

Hiding things from the reader is really awkward though. Humans are strangely good at pattern recognition so while you may hide a lot of things from a lot of people you can't hide anything from everyone. There are always going to be people who take one look at the first piece of the puzzle and see the whole picture. Generally you hide things from the audience by omission, but not total omission, humans see holes very well too. When you do tell the audience things you "ignore what's in plain sight", focusing instead on the details that deliberately distract from the secret you want to hide while telling the audience what you don't want them to know. For example your Jeanne character bears a striking resemblance to a certain medieval painting of herself, have the protagonist bring this up, and a laughing Jeanne says "that's not one I remember sitting for." the audience is in "modern world mode" so it's a joke between friends, you've actually told who the character is while giving an even stronger message that they aren't that person.

7

Given Joan of Arc and Loki on the stage, your setting is modern-day magical, you have a 600+ year old woman and a God. The reader will consider it a rip-off, a bait-and-switch if you don't reveal the magical nature of this world early in the first act. It will NOT be "entertaining", it will look like a deus ex machina if you don't show the magic early. It doesn't have to be with these particular characters, but it is an inevitable clue you have to reveal.

Misdirection.

That said, a good way of diverting suspicion is to embrace the similarities: The girl pretends to be an avid fan of history in general and Joan of Arc in particular, referring to her as a tragic hero, unfairly treated, horrifically killed, etc. Find a few other female heroes she admires. She thinks women are underrated in history (they definitely are!), and it is unfortunate the only reason Joan is remembered is because she did a man's job in battle.

It becomes difficult for the protagonist to prove she is Joan of Arc, when her "hobby" gives her an excuse to know everything he can possibly know about Joan of Arc. Including perhaps an ability to read medieval French that he doesn't have.

As for Loki, he can hide in plain sight, too. Take a clue from the canceled series Lucifer: The actual devil is on Earth as a self-indulgent, rich night club owner, a womanizer, a deal maker, consorting with loose women, drug users, gangsters and criminals. Exactly where you'd expect the devil to be, but he appears human.

Find a similar modern environment where you think Loki would feel at home: He's a trickster, maybe a stage magician, a card shark, a con man, or an actor, or even an author renowned for his clever riddles and plot twists. A wealthy author has a ready made excuse to be anywhere he wants: Researching a new novel he will not discuss, lest he ruin the surprise.

4

As Cyn stated above, different readers will bring different background to your book. But don't be concerned overmuch with hiding everything from your readers: people love puzzles and they love to be 'in the know' about something that other members of the cast are unaware of.

Case in point: I know the word 'Wednesday' is derived from 'Woden,' i.e. Odin, and so when I came across the character in American Gods I immediately recognised him. But while for Cyn that might have been a spoiler that would have ruined the revelation, for me it gave me a pleasurable sense of being in on the secret and watching the other characters figure things out.

There will always be someone out there who knows who Hveðrungr was!

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You do it by limiting the narrator's gaze. You can describe things from the point of view of one or more characters, who haven't yet figured out the secret identities of the celebrity characters. Or, if you have a broader narrator, you can simply turn away when the secret identities of the characters are more obvious.

A good example of this is American Gods. Despite the title, and the obviously supernatural happenings in the first few chapters, we do not know the identity of Mr. Wednesday until much later. Mostly because the book is from the point of view of a naive outsider.

We realize quickly Mr. Wednesday isn't who he claims to be, but we don't know he's a God—and we certainly don't know which one—until he tells us well into the book. Sure, some readers figure it out earlier, but I didn't. It's still a big reveal. It's not the biggest secret the author keeps from the reader either, because the main character doesn't know his own identity.

Every reader will have a different experience with your book. If you aim to keep the secret from every reader, then it will come as a shock to most, and not in a delightful surprise way. So tease your reader with hints and aim for maybe 80-90% to be surprised by the reveals.

  • That last paragraph is perhaps most important: you're not going to fool everyone, and inevitably someone will figure out true identities within minutes of seeing/reading the character's introduction. An example of that was the true identity of Tyler on "Star Trek Discovery". Within minutes of him being introduced, as soon as he made one statement about how he was in the situation Lorca found him in, some viewers immediately knew who he really was. The only way for someone not to figure it out is, as mentioned above, using a complete ass-pull that just annoys people. – Keith Morrison Nov 2 '18 at 15:42

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