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How and more importantly when do you reveal a major secret about the character?

My character is a mythical species, highly valuable for both intel and magical properties, however she is humanoid and able to disguise the more prominent features using magic. At what point in the story do I share with the reader that she is what she is? First chapter? First few lines? 10 chapters in? And once I decide when I do this, how do I do it?
It is something the reader needs to know as she will be hiding this from her travelling companion as well as attempting to hide from more powerful beings trying to find 'an escaped myhtical creature.'

If I were to use first person, I wouldn't use the style where they converse/refer to the reader ("I'd put the book down if I were you", "I bet you know what's coming next", etc). And if I were to use third person, would the advice be any different?

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  • How could the 1/3 P viewpoint change when to reveal anything, please? In any case, I was about to Post something very similar to Ben's Answer, so instead I've upvoted his… Commented Mar 2 at 20:20

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If your story is a detective novel, when and how do you reveal that your protagonist is a detective? In a romance novel, when and how do you reveal the sex and sexual orientation of the protagonist?

You think that because your protagonist is something that your readers are not, you need to handle their identity in a special way. But you don't.

If a certain aspect of your protagonist is essential to drive the plot – that she works for the police and hunts a murderer, or that he is smitten with another man and tries to attract him – you need to explain it as soon as it becomes relevant. Whether that is the first sentence or the third page or the second chapter will depend on your opening. A detective novel can begin with the detective falling in love with a man who later turns out to be the murderer. You then might reveal that she is a detective when she goes to work after spending the night with what later turns out to be her antagonist.

As for how to reveal it, that depends on your style. You can show it (she picks up her police badge and is given the case by her superior) or you can tell the reader ("Detective XY went to ..."). There is no one way to do this.

In your case, if your story is told from the viewpoint of the mythical being (in whatever grammatical person) it will be relevant that she isn't human right from the beginning. So you will likely open the book by either telling your readers who the protagonist is ("In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.") or by showing them how she experiences the world ("Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting." – William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury).

There are other books that are told from the perspective of an alien being. You might want to read a few of them to see how others handle this. They are easy to find: https://www.google.com/search?q=story+told+from+an+alien+viewpoint, and you can read the beginnings of most in online bookstores like Amazon.

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I do not write in first person, I only write in the 3rd person limited.

But like first person, for the focus character in any given chapter, the narrator knows exactly what the main character is thinking, remembering, feeling, and doing.

I'll call your magical creature the pixie, for brevity, and the other the companion.

So if the focus character has a secret you don't want the reader to know, they cannot have any occasion to even think about their secret. That requires some careful scene crafting to remain plausible. (And in my preference, it would still be plausible if, after the reader learns the secret, they went back and re-read the scenes with the pixie just to see if they were realistic).

The easiest way to write this is to never make the pixie either the focus character, or a first person character.

The ideal way is to craft, throughout the book, instances of concealed magic by your pixie, trying to cover their tracks, that appear as luck or coincidence to the companion.

The time to reveal the secret is when the companion must know in order to succeed, or save the pixie, or feels betrayed by pixie lies.

Perhaps the companion is going to die if the pixie does not use obvious and powerful magic immediately and openly, say the companion slipped on ice and fell off a cliff, and immediate magic was the only possible way to save them.

However, in circumstances like this, you must foreshadow the reveal, to avoid a deus ex machina.

You need the reader to suspect something is up, throughout the story. The pixie is just too lucky! Time after time the pixie is the luckiest person in the world. The two of them are hungry, the pixie suggest a path to look for food, and voila a few minutes down the path there is an apple tree, heavy with perfectly ripe fruit.

Somebody is chasing them in a vehicle, and their axle breaks.

They are being chased and run across a rickety bridge, the moment they step off it, the bridge collapses into the river below, and the pursuers are left looking it.

They pixie grabs the companion to huddle against a hail of hundreds of arrows, that land all around them, but without a single hit.

And every time, the pixie says, we are just so lucky together, we have to stick together.

Until there is no hiding the magic, it must be big, and obvious, and not concealable as just "luck." The failure to use it means death for one or both of them.

You have to figure out when to reveal based on the plot. And then deal with the emotions of the reveal, in the companion and in the pixie.

You will also need a reason for the pixie to be with the companion, instead of on her own. There must be something in the companion or about the companion that the pixie needs. Perhaps knowledge, or expertise, like a talent. Perhaps their very genes, the pixie needs a descendant of an original king. The companion may not even know what essential element they bring, but it must be something, or the story makes no sense. Personally, I'd be inclined to make the companion the brains of the two, the strategic thinker.

Preferably, the reveal (and reconciliation over lying) comes just in time for the finale, their last shot at accomplishing their goal. So the pixie can openly use magic, and the companion can openly employ the pixie's magic in their strategy to complete their mission.

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When to tell depends on who is telling, and why

In a first person narrative, there is (or ought to be) an implied story as to why the character is telling the story. The character-narrator will necessarily have her own motives (possibly including telling a surprising and exciting story) which affect when she reveals things. There may also be an implied audience, and whether the audience knows "the surprise" before she begins telling will impact how the story is told.

If the character is going back and explaining her history to the person she just revealed her true identity to, then obviously the story starts with her true identity. If, on the other hand, she thinks she might get everything across to her audience without revealing who she really is, and then narrates herself into a corner, that would be when the truth comes out.

Or, you could time a first-person reveal exactly as you might in a third-person telling, revealing what she is at the most interesting and dramatic moment (after appropriate foreshadowing if it was not at the beginning, of course).

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