This post is (sort of) inspired by Character Paths: Destiny Vs Free Will over on Charles Yallowitz’s blog. The subject came up of keeping the reader’s interest in a story where the end is foretold. That got me to thinking about the possibility of a false prophecy.
What if (“What if” is writer talk for “Hold my beer, I want to try something”) the main character had been raised from childhood to believe that he was the fulfillment of a prophecy, that he had been destined to seek out the evil emperor or whatever, fight, struggle against the forces of darkness, and in the end he would be victorious and deliver the people from slavery, or whatever.
Then, about midway through the story, our Studdley Heroic finds a way to read the prophetic writings himself, and… that’s not what they say at all. He finds out that his whole life he has been lied to by the monks who raised him, and there is nothing special about him.
Now, I think that would be an awesome story, kind of “The Great Stone Face” meets “The Princess Bride” and I can see a lot of interesting character development when our hero realizes that not only could he fail, he could choose not to fight, or to do whatever he wanted.
But that got me thinking about when writers set out to fool their readers, and the different ways we have of doing that.
I’d like to expand on this in detail, but first I’d like to get a general feeling. As a reader (or watcher) how do you feel when a writer leads you to believe something that isn’t true and then hits you with a reveal that changes the rules of the piece?
Do you feel cheated? Do you accept it as part of the art? Are some ways of doing that better than others? It’s going to be tough to discuss this without spoilers, but can you give some examples of writers setting up expectations and confounding them that you feel are particularly good or particularly bad?