What is misdirection? Let’s take a simple example of a magician. A magician uses subtle misdirection to trick the audience. He makes you look at the wrong place while he does something in the actual place. He might tell you to focus on his right hand, when actually, he does something with his left hand. Misdirection in writing works a similar way. A common example is when the author makes it look like a certain character is the antagonist, when in fact, it ends up being the protagonist’s sidekick who’s the villain of the story. Interesting, huh? Let’s see how to incorporate this trick in stories.
In order to achieve this illusion perfectly, you must make this character appear completely convincing and real. The reader should be able to connect with this character and trust this character. There should be no plot holes, for if even a tiny link is left open, readers will quickly create their own theories and have doubts about this character in the back of their mind.
We’re gonna work on identifying four variations of character misdirection: false ally, false enemy, false enemy turned true enemy, false ally turned true ally.
- False Ally
This character appears to be acting on the protagonist’s side for the benefit of the protagonist, when really, they’re not. They’re working privately for their own benefit, and usually end up either being an ally to the antagonist or being the antagonist themselves. Or, they don’t have anything against the protagonist, but they’re being forced to be a false ally, maybe because their loved one is in danger.
This is a very common one, isn’t it? I’m sure you’re all thinking of some particular character or story you’ve read before with this type of misdirection. I, for one, have read a lot of books on Wattpad with this type of misdirection. It’s a very common one. An example for this is President Coin from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay who only sides with Katniss for her own benefits.
- False Enemy
This is a slightly less common one, but I’ve seen it in use nevertheless. This type of character is the opposite of the first one. In this, the character seems to be working against the protagonist, when really, they’re trying to help the protagonist. The protagonist doesn’t trust them, either because he suspects the character to be the enemy, or the character has presented themselves as such. A good example of this would be Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series. He works as a double agent, where the antagonist thinks that he is a false ally of the protagonist, when in fact, he is a false ally of the antagonist. Another example is Marco in the movie Avalon High. The protagonist thinks that he is the enemy, when in fact, he’s been keeping them safe.
- False Enemy turned to True Enemy
Now this is a little tricky. These characters are uncommon, and need to be carefully planned since these are trickier than others.
These characters start off masquerading as the enemy, but end up creating genuine obstacles between the protagonist and their goals. However, the protagonist generally dislikes this character from the beginning, so there isn’t much angst when this character betrays the protagonist. This character can still be interesting if the story is from their point of view, portraying their inner turmoil. For example, the character might be a spy for the good guys and the bad guys but their true loyalty lies with the bad guys (kinda like the opposite of Snape).
- False Ally turned to True Ally
This is a tricky one too, but more common and more fun to play with. In this type of misdirection, the character starts out opposed to the protagonist but later discovers their true feelings/intentions and decides to side with the protagonist. This is another common misdirection I’ve seen in Wattpad books. This is also common in most dystopian books.
If you’ve successfully identified any of these characters in your story and realized their full potential in plot building, let’s learn how to start using character misdirection in stories.
These are the five main angles:
- To Create Conflict
This is, after all, the main reason for misdirection; to create conflict, or build tension in the plot. This keeps the readers hooked.
- To Create Layers of Complexity
This basically means to make the reader think. In simple cliché stories, there are black and white characters, i.e. the good guys and bad guys are easy to differentiate and the plot is predictable. To create layers of complexity means to create characters in shades of grey, i.e. make them so, that their actions result in a vast amount of questions arising in the reader’s head.
- To Challenge the Protagonist’s Beliefs and Complacency
The misdirected characters will ripple the protagonist’s views on the world. It’ll break their view on the world and leave them dazed, the same way the readers will be left dazed. The basic principle is that sometimes the people we believe to be good turn out to have ulterior motives and vice versa.
- To Turn the Plot
This simply means advancement of plot, the plot grows and delves deeper bit by bit, drawing the reader in. Plot misdirection plays a major part in advancing the plot by leaps and bounds.
- To Create Suspense and Plot Twists
As told before, misdirection creates suspense and builds tension, resulting in your reader’s full attention and them racing through the pages with wide and eager eyes to get to the end. It’ll have them questioning things like if the protagonist is about to get stabbed in the back, or questioning a character’s true motives. It’ll keep them on the edge of their toes and create vast possibilities of theories. The revelation of truth makes for effective plot twists, that leave your reader in awe, creating an unforgettable experience.
Character misdirection is an essential tool for aspiring fiction writers. It’s also very fun to play around with, and won’t be a burden to write!
BY Kashvi Dikshit
EC Magazine Writer
EC Magazine Graphics Supervisor