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I’m currently planning my characters, and wanted to grab some opinions.

I’m planning to have three main-ish characters, where the third character is more of an alternate identity of the second character (villain). My question then; how much backstory do I need for this ‘fake’ character to seem believable as their own person? I want to leave enough gaps (ideally very small) to be overlooked for the most part of the story, but not so many as to spoil the reveal.

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  • What do you mean with "alternate identity" and "'fake' character"? Are there three people or only two? If three, how is one the alternate identity of another? If two, do you mean that one character assumes a false identity and pretends to be someone he is not, like a confidence man or secret agent?
    – Ben
    Commented Apr 3 at 13:47

2 Answers 2

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Not to ruin your story, but Fight Club is almost exactly that story.

Edward Norton and Brad Pitt seem like different characters, but in the end, it is revealed they are the same person, and that person suffers from dissociative identity disorder (aka split personality disorder).

That doesn't prohibit a new story with a similar plot, but Fight Club was pretty famous, and might make your story look derivative, even if it was an original idea to you.

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  • Well, if his story has nothing to do with a Fight Club and no other obvious connection to that movie except for the split personality, I doubt most readers, even those who saw that movie, would consider it "derivative". Every romance novel is not a rip off of Romeo & Juliet.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 8 at 3:54
  • @Jay I'm a reader, and I would. Fight Club isn't really about Fight Club, it is all about the dynamics between the two main characters, how one is controlling the other, how one is under the spell of the other, and the clues along the way and the reveal at the end. That "reveal" sounds like the main purpose of the questioner's story, how to make sure all the clues are there, under the radar, so the reveal makes sense. If you want to know how to do it well, watch Fight Club.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Apr 8 at 11:09
  • You're saying that ANY story about someone with a split personality would be perceived as a rip-off of Fight Club? That seems quite a stretch. Like saying that ANY story about soldiers in a war would be perceived as a rip off of The Longest Day. Or that ANY story about a murder mystery would be perceived as a rip off of Agatha Cristy's The Orient Express. Etc. If there were lots of parallels between the two stories, sure. But just to say that because it has this one element in common? Very likely that the thought would never even occur to me, and I dare say most other readers.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 8 at 15:07
  • And all this, of course, assumes that the reader has even seen the movie Fight Club. I haven't, and there are several billion other people who haven't.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 8 at 15:08
  • @Jay it doesn't matter if you have seen it. Agents and publishers and film producers and reviewers are all aware of it. If the whole story's climax is about "Oh, Joe and Jack are the same guy, a split personality", then yes, it will be seen as derivative of Fight Club, and likely rejected. A story where a split personality is revealed early, or is a component of a story and not the "climax reveal", may still be worthwhile. Stories about common conditions (seeking revenge, facing cancer, serial killers, con men, etc) are very repeatable. Uncommon conditions are much harder to repeat well.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Apr 8 at 15:53
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CAN you? Certainly. It's not like the Fiction Police will arrest you for writing such a story. The question is, can you do it well enough to make the story interesting and believable? The trick here is to make the "imaginary" character concrete enough that he is believable, but not so distinct from the other personality that when the reveal comes, readers find it disconcerting.

I read once -- sorry, I don't remember the source so can't give proper credit -- that in a well-written story, the ending follows logically from what came before, so that when the conclusion comes the reader feels that it makes perfect sense, but it is also a complete surprise. That's hard to achieve as those are competing goals, but that should be the ideal. I'm sure we've all read stories where some reveal just comes out of nowhere, where we are just suddenly told that aliens have landed and there was absolutely no clue in the story before that that this was anything about aliens. (Or whatever.) And likewise I'm sure we've all read stories where the ending is so obvious that when it finally comes you're like, "well duh, that was obvious from page 3".

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