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For my horror/thriller story, I want to start off with the prologue with a seemingly random character facing the main plot driving antagonist. I'm doing this by having the character have a nightmare relating to the antagonist and their "secret". I want to keep their identity hidden and who they are to the protag be revealed later. Note that I'm writing the book in the third person, which is what makes this seem hard to me. I want it to seem like I am simply introducing the antagonist before the antagonist meets the protagonist when I'm actually also adding this character as a jaw-dropping revelation later on. How do I write the prologue and refer to the character without using their name or obvious descriptors?

I might need to specify again that they are not a throwaway protagonist.

I want it to seem like that in the prologue but as the story progresses, I want it to be revealed that that character is pretty close to the protagonist and could be crucial to the story after they are outed.

My idea is to write this prologue and their identity like how Fredrik Backman wrote about the bank robber in his book 'Anxious People'.

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  • If I understand correctly, P (known to be the protagonist) will have a nightmare in the prologue where P faces A (known to be the antagonist.) Then the regular story will start and there will be many characters including B, who P interacts with. Then at some point in a shocking twist we discover that B is really A? Is that the plan? Jun 8, 2022 at 16:55
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    If that's your question, see writing.stackexchange.com/questions/29783/… Jun 8, 2022 at 16:57
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    What's the non-fiction tag doing here? It doesn't sound like non-fiction to me.
    – Laurel
    Jun 8, 2022 at 19:10

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Refer to the antagonist without using their name. Instead, use descriptors.

"How do I...refer to the character without using their name or obvious descriptors?"

Here's the thing. One of the keys to writing a good twist is not just that some of your readers won't see it coming, but also that it seems inevitable in hindsight. Which means some readers should be able to predict it. If it's unpredictable, then that's exactly the reaction your readers will have to the twist: they'll say, "this was random, out-of-the-blue, unpredictable." Readers hate that.

So you actually need to telegraph ahead of time what the twist is, just do it subtly. Use descriptors that, if you really thought about it carefully and matched it up against other information in the book, a reader could figure out the twist, but otherwise, they won't notice.

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    Or if you feel you need to use a false name before the reveal, use one that could realistically be a pseudonym - if the character is intentionally being anonymous give them a short, dull name.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 14, 2022 at 13:05

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