Unknown by the characters involved and hidden from the readers, there's this ability of one specific character that allows him to hear/perceive the truth from anyone's speech. If they're telling the truth, what he hears/perceives is what the interlocutor is saying. If there's lies or hidden meanings, he'll grasp the truth in his own interpretation and knowledge of the facts.

I'll exemplify two ways:

Surface POV: I joined the military so I could defend my kingdom from foreign invasions.

Perception of character POV: I joined the military so I could leave my town and follow my own path.

Truth: I was scared of being the same old shit as my father, from a shitty town. I chose the military career just because it would drag me the farther away from all that misery.

There's also a possibility for:

Perception of character POV: I joined the military so I could defend my kingdom from foreign invasions. - Richard said, but it was not confidence and selflessness that burst out of his mouth. There was fear and resentment lingering around his lips as he said those lies.

Important points:

  • The speech for the speaker is different from what the special character perceives and hears.
  • The special character perceives both the truth and the false speech, the examples are how he process the information.
  • This ability is not revealed through the book, nor I plan it to be revealed later on, just perceived by the reader as he drives through the story.

Question: How to hint that ability to the reader apart from using different POVs of the same scene? What devices might be used to enhance the classic "show don't tell" in this situation?

  • Are you planning to write this story in 3rd person limited - meaning the only character’s POV that the reader is seeing is the one with this ability? Mar 9, 2019 at 23:42
  • Yes, third person limited. I'll have multiple povs characters, but they won't be around every scene so that ability can be exposed. Also, using too much the "pov tool" could be too upfront.
    – Faed
    Mar 9, 2019 at 23:46
  • I've seen this done with italics and something called 'truth spell.' I can elaborate if it sounds useful. You might need to establish 'truth spell' or whatever you call it early on. I've not seen it hidden from readers--but FWIW readers like being in on secrets.
    – SFWriter
    Mar 9, 2019 at 23:51

3 Answers 3


While this may not be specifically related to your character’s abilities, what I have seen many writers do for characters with similar abilities is distinguish the ”translation” or whatever the special character is understanding or interpreting by using italics. For example,

”I just want to take a few pictures of you guys to use in our latest catalog. I think you and your friends are a perfect fit. Here’s my business card, please call me and let me know, ” the suspicious photographer said.

They just need to take the bait, and we will have them right where we want them. I doubt they’ll be able to tell that this business card is fake. Leeanna determines the photographer's true intentions and quickly signals to her friends to decline the offer.

This might be along the lines of what DPT commented.

You should be able to hint at it more vaguely so the readers have more trouble figuring out exactly what the special character’s ability is.


This depends on how obvious you want to make it. I'm going to give two suggestions, of which the latter is by far my favorite, but is also less subtle.

Option 1: Just describe what a speaker says in the three different levels.

Don't draw special attention to it, but write dialogue differently than you normally would by giving more statements of the speaker without making clear whether they actually said them out loud.


"I wanted to serve my kingdom", he said. But his words also said "I actually wanted to escape from the boring life at home" and, more hidden and covered up, "I am scared to death of becoming a fucking loser like my father".

It seems likely that something strange is going on here, but it's hard to pinpoint. It will certainly make this character interesting because they seem to know so much about everyone they talk to. Personally, I think the problem here is that it will never be clear whether this is simply good intuition and knowledge of human beings or whether it is something more.

Option 2: Introduce new words to help the reader and to enhance your story.

The special character you are talking about likely needs to categorize these different types of hearing they possess in some way. You can use this categorization as a guide for the reader that also clues them in that something special is happening in the scene.


"I wanted to serve my kingdom", his loudvoice said. But his selfvoice said "I actually wanted to escape from the boring life at home". They both tried to drown out his truthvoice, which said "I am scared to death of becoming a fucking loser like my father".

Here the text uses categorizations as they are used by the special character (who is definitely the POV in this case). I have introduced "loudvoice" as the description of the normal speech of the speaker, "selfvoice" as the personal perception of the speaker, and "truthvoice" as the actual, potentially repressed voice of truth.

Something like this can really help to flesh out the character. For example, you mention that in some cases people simply speak the truth. Well, what would the character then hear? They would hear three voices at once, saying the same thing. This might be beautiful and rare for them.

Example (in which the special character is named Warren):

The man in handcuffs raised his voice. "I don't deny it", he said. "I killed them all, I butchered them in their sleep. I loved it, and I would do it again." His loudvoice, his selfvoice and his truthvoice all spoke in unison and formed a perfect harmony. It was beautiful. Warren suppressed a blissful smile.

Personally I believe this is an interesting way of doing it, because it allows you to write about a new dimension - namely how this all affects the main character, how having this ability might have changed his priorities concerning what people say. You don't even have to mention dialogue this way at all, you can sometimes simply focus on how the different levels make your character feel:

His loudvoice was a bore, but his selfvoice was so fascinating! Warren could not stop listening.

Option 3: Don't listen to me, do your own thing.

This might be my most important advice: this part of your novel seems to be important, and it might be one of the stand-out features of your novel. So think about an interesting way to portray it yourself. It's not difficult to get the point across; it's difficult to make it exciting and unique. And it will be better if it is something that is truly yours, not just something you copied from advice on the internet.


There are different ways to show this. One way you could do it is by tackling each statement in this manner:

And so I asked him to tell me why he joined the military. To my surprise, he actually answered. "I joined the military," he began but from here his answer and the truth differed.

"...so that I could defend my kingdom from foreign invasions."

"...so that I could leave my town and follow my own path."

"...because I was scared of being the same old shit as my father: just another shitty man from a shitty town. I enlisted simply so I could be dragged as far away from here as I could be."

I did not expect that from him. He certainly didn't seem to be the type. An honorable lie with a selfish reason masking a painful truth. It's a shame he's only destined to die at this rate.

By separating the responses from the rest of the text and having your narrator address which is the lie and which is the truth, you effectively sort out the issue of conveyance. It's all done and you only have to make sure you word your character's reaction to it properly, as opposed to the reactions to each thing. It makes for easier typing.

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