One of the characters in my book feels the need to protect a woman she barely knows and later on it will be revealed that they have a magical which causes the character in question to want to protect the woman regardless of what their relationship is.

I don't want to just say 'It was almost magical' or something similar as to not to reveal the plot twist, but I fear that if I don't indicate towards something the audience will think of the protection as the author forcing them together.

What can I do in order to indicate something is afoot without actually revealing the bond?

The basic setting is

  1. Medieval High Fantasy

  2. The protected character is a noble.

  3. The protector is one of the servants.

  4. Neither of them had any conversation beyond 'I brought you your X milady'.

3 Answers 3


Diana Wynne Jones did this (quite well) in The Merlin Conspiracy. The reveal, near the end of the story, was quite effective.

I would challenge the idea that you need to hint directly to your audience why a servant feels a particular compulsion to protect her mistress (or her master's child, or whatever connection there is). Rather, have your protector-character rationalize her extraordinary actions to herself. ("This is my duty as a servant. Sure, I'm not normally big on duty, but... She just couldn't make it without me.") The more obviously false the rationalizations, the less unnatural it will seem to the reader when it turns out there was a magical compulsion in play. ("Okay, she stepped up and solved that problem without me, but I'm SURE she needs my help most of the time; she's high-born and can't handle things like...")

People in general often act first and then explain to themselves why they are doing what they're doing - attempting to impose reasonable motives on possibly unreasonable behavior. Interesting story tensions arise when it becomes difficult or impossible for a character to maintain their false self-narrative regarding their behavior.


Mirror addiction. Addiction is very much a compulsive behavior. Often times feeding that addiction is fun and exactly what the person wants. And often times it is unpleasant with significant repercussions and people wish more than anything they didn't need it.

So one way to convey that is to have the character engaging in the compulsive behavior even when it is detrimental to them, but also when they are indicating that they don't want to.

Another way to indicate the behavior is compulsive is to have them try to stop (maybe repeatedly) unsuccessfully, possibly with physical and/or mental repercussions.


I'd suggest giving some thought to how the magic actually works -- because figuring out a concrete magical effect will get you a long way towards answering the question "how does this escape the character's notice".

Just a few examples off the top of my head:

  • The magic grants the protector great confidence and courage, just at the right moments.
  • The magic forces weird coincidences in order to guarantee that the protector doesn't just strike off on their own.
  • The magic causes the protector to fall in love with their charge, so the protection will feel like its of the protector's own volition.

What I'd really recommend is the you, the author, be able to point to one or two things and say, "Look, HERE, right here is where the magic is." That the magic's effect be specific, interventions that are clear and well-defined. Because the alternative is that the magic becomes vague, all-encompassing; a hand-wave saying "the magic made all this happen" without it being clear what the magic actually did, and then there really is no difference between the magic spell and authorial whim.

I'd also recommend you limit yourself to one or two effects -- they can repeat, but I'd recommend you keep them consistent. If the magic makes the protector dream of their charge every night and brings down torrents of rain in order to keep them snug in a tent, then that gives you twice as much to explain and justify; twice as much to walk the "this is magic but not too overt" balance with.

If you do this, you will have a promising answer in your hands. Because whatever magic effect you've chosen, is now both the one thing your characters need to dismiss as perfectly normal, and also a very specific, concrete effect you can actually highlight as being strange and curious.

Following the earlier examples:

  • A person becoming uncharacteristically courageous, always to the benefit of one character, is precisely the kind of thing that might seem natural in the moment, but might raise some eyebrows if it keeps happening.
  • The coincidences can strike everybody as very weird indeed; and it can take them a while to figure out how each coincidence winds up saving the charge's life.
  • Falling in love with somebody can feel magical, unexpected, out-of-character, life-changing -- so maybe it is.

Note how each one of these gives you a different element to focus on, to play up as the center of this discovery. Each of them, obviously, also make for a very different story! (And you can come up with your own, tailored to the specific style and feel you're aiming for.)
But what each one does is gives you a focus; a specific thing to be taken for granted, but actually be strange and unusual. This can be an awful lot easier to do with a concrete effect -- bursts of courage; weird coincidences; a sudden romance -- than with the much more vague "compelled to protect them, for no apparent reason".

Hope this helps, and all the best!

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