Deepen Your Story with Character Misdirection

Deepen Your Story With Character Misdirection

Top 10 Writing Posts of 2016In childhood, stories are always about exactly what they appear: “See Spot. See Spot run.” But as we grow older and our life experiences deepen, so do our story experiences. What emerges is often a complex weave of subtext and misdirection. Life isn’t always as we perceive it on its surface—and even when it is, half the time, we miss what’s right in front of our noses anyway. Our stories should reflect that, and one of the best tools for achieving this effect is character misdirection.

What is character misdirection? Simply: this is when the protagonist (and the readers) believe another character fulfills one role when, in fact, he fulfills exactly the opposite. The great John Truby calls these characters “Fake-Opponent Allies” and “Fake-Ally Opponents.” I prefer simply “False Enemies” and “False Allies.”

In short, these are characters who are not what they seem. They provide rich opportunities for dichotomy, juxtaposition, insights into the protagonist, insights into the theme, plot revelations, and plot twists. They’re both incredibly useful and incredibly fun to work with.

The 4 Variations of Character Misdirection

Character misdirection can be broken down into four variations on the False Enemy/Ally.

1. The False Ally

This is a character who pretends to be on the protagonist’s side—when really, she’s not. Even as she seems to support the protagonist’s goals, she is privately working toward her own ends, which are in opposition to the protagonist’s.

For Example:
  • The False Ally might be a mole or a spy, planted in the hero’s camp by the main antagonist.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Edmund and the White Witch

Character Misdirection Example: Edmund Pevensie starts out C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by luring his siblings to the White Witch, in exchange for “sweeties.” (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Walt Disney Pictures.)

  • The False Ally might be someone who despises the protagonist and his goals, but who feels the best way to undermine him is by masquerading under the guise of friendship.
Miss Havisham Gillian Anderson Great Expectations

Character Misdirection Example: Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is believed by the protagonist Pip to be his great friend and benefactor, when she is, in fact, working to symbolically destroy him in vengeance for having been jilted by her fiancé many years past. (Great Expectations (2011), BBC One.)

  • The False Ally might be someone who has no actual ill will for the protagonist, but whose goals are so diametrically opposed to the protagonist’s welfare that her well-meaning advice is incredibly misleading and destructive for the protagonist.
Tyler Durden is the impact character in Fight Club.

Character Misdirection Example: Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club seems to be the protagonist’s friend, but as the story progresses, the protagonist slowly begins to realize that “Tyler” has been working his own agenda from the beginning. (Fight Club (1999), 20th Century Fox.)

  • The False Ally might be someone who truly believes himself to be aligned with the protagonist, before his own goals and desires pull him away.
Willoughby Marianne Sense and Sensibility

Character Misdirection Example: Willoughby in Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility was believed by the Dashwood women to be their friend, and indeed Willoughby himself seems to have felt the same—but his true nature eventually betrays them when he abandons Marianne without explanation. (Sense and Sensibility (2008), BBC/WGBH Boston.)

The False Ally often aligns with Dramatica’s Contagonist archetype, which stands in opposition to the Mentor/Guardian, in that she appears to be on the protagonist’s side while subtly luring him away from his Truth—and his victory in the conflict.

2. The False Enemy

Just the opposite of the above, the False Enemy is a character who appears to be opposed to the protagonist, but is, in fact, on the protagonist’s side, in part or in whole. The protagonist doesn’t trust him, either because he suspects the character is an enemy or because the character has outright presented himself as such. But as the story progresses, the facts just don’t quite stack up, and it becomes clear the true obstacle is the protagonist’s distrust of this character standing in the way of their working together toward a common goal.

For Example:
  • The False Enemy might be a double agent, someone who appears to be working for the enemy, but is, in fact, in the employ of the good guys all along.
Character Misdirection Example: In Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the protagonist Cap's best friend Bucky Barnes has been brainwashed into serving Hydra's evil ends, but even though he obstructs Cap's goals until the very end, he ultimately reverts to his true role of ally.

Character Misdirection Example: In Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the protagonist Cap’s best friend Bucky Barnes has been brainwashed into serving Hydra’s evil ends, but even though he obstructs Cap’s goals until the very end, he ultimately reverts to his true role of ally. (Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Marvel Studios.)

  • The False Enemy might be someone who fulfills a stereotypical “bad” role, prejudicing the protagonist against her, even as this character works toward the protagonist’s ultimate good.
Character Misdirection Example: Magwitch, in Great Expectations, plays the reverse role to Miss Havisham's. His role as a brutal escaped convict convinces the protagonist Pip he is evil, when, in fact, Magwitch turns out to have been his benefactor all along.

Character Misdirection Example: Magwitch, in Great Expectations, plays the reverse role to Miss Havisham’s. His reputation as a brutal escaped convict convinces the protagonist Pip he is evil, when, in fact, Magwitch turns out to have been his benefactor all along. (Great Expectations (2011), BBC One.)

  • The False Enemy might be someone who is not “for” the protagonist, but who is working against the antagonist, so that his goals at least momentarily align with the protagonist’s, in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of twist.
Pam Landy Bourne Ultimatum Joan Allen

Character Misdirection Example: In Bourne Ultimatum, CIA chief Pam Landy becomes Bourne’s unofficial ally in an attempt to bring down the corruption at the heart of the CIA’s covert black ops. (The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Universal Pictures.)

3. The False Ally Turned True Ally

Creating Character Arcs

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

This is where things can get tricky. Sometimes characters who aren’t what they seem turn out to be exactly what they seem! The False Ally who becomes a true ally is a fun character because of the inherent character arc involved. Although this character starts out opposed to the protagonist, her exposure to the protagonist inspires change within her life to the point that her goals and motivations can entirely shift.

In Anatomy of Story, Truby says this character is…

valuable because he is inherently complex. This character often goes under a fascinating change in the course of the story. By pretending to be an ally of the hero, the fake-ally opponent starts to feel like an ally. So he becomes torn by a dilemma.

For Example:
  • Sometimes the character will resolve his inner dilemma and turn away completely from the opposition to become a true ally.
Night Angel Trilogy Brent Weeks

Character Misdirection Example: In Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy, the protagonist Kylar’s opposing assassin apprentice Viridiana falls in love with him and eventually comes over to his side completely.

  • Sometimes the character will fail to completely resolve his internal dilemma. Torn between loyalties, he may fail to wholly satisfy either, or may reluctantly swerve back to his original alignment with the opposition.
Casino Royale Vesper Lynd Eva Green

Character Misdirection Example: Vesper Lynd in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale is essentially a double agent who comes to despise her original loyalties, only to be sucked irrevocably—and lethally—back into them. (Casino Royale (2006), MGM.)

4. The False Enemy Turned True Enemy

Finally, we have characters who masquerade as enemies only to end by creating genuine obstacles between the protagonist and her goals. These characters are rarer, since they present the least amount of conflict and complexity. The protagonist generally dislikes them from the start, which means there isn’t much in the way of angst when these characters really do betray her. Still, they can create an interesting subplot of personal turmoil as they sort through their own loyalties.

For Example:
  • This character might be one who is an avowed triple agent from the start: a spy for the bad guys who also spies for the good guys but whose true loyalty really does lie with the bad guys (is your head spinning yet?).
Supernatural Ruby and Sam

Character Misdirection Example: Ruby in Supernatural shifts alignment within the plotline multiple times: she goes from enemy to distrusted ally/False Enemy, before finally revealing her alignment as a true enemy. (Supernatural (2005-2020), The CW.)

  • This character might also be one whose loyalties are conflicted from the beginning. He has a foot in each camp, genuinely caring for the protagonist even though the protagonist doesn’t know it—but ultimately not caring enough to do right by the protagonist.
Secondhand Lions Kyra Sedgwick Haley Joel Osment

Character Misdirection Example: In Secondhand Lions, the protagonist’s selfish mother is presented an antagonist from the beginning. Even though she loves her son and has a few short glimmers of trying to be a good mother, she ultimately cannot overcome her own self-centered needs enough to care for him—forcing a final confrontation between them in the Climax. (Secondhand Lions (2003), New Line Cinema.)

These latter two categories can get confusing fast. It’s best to concentrate on the first two categories—straightforward False Allies and False Enemies—but also to realize they don’t always have to be straightforward.

5 Ways to Use Character Misdirection in Your Story

Have you been able to identify any False Allies or Enemies in your story—or perhaps just the potential for their use? If so, here’s where you get down to business and start using character misdirection to improve your story. Start by concentrating on these five angles:

1. To Create Conflict

Ultimately, the true and best use of character misdirection is to serve the heart of your plot: to create conflict. The joy of stories about mistaken identities is the havoc caused by the characters’ misconceptions. When your protagonist is drawing false assumptions about another character, he will be unable to fully grapple with the true conflict.

For Example:

False Allies create conflict by misdirecting the protagonist away from the true fight, while secretly working against him.

False Enemies create conflict by (willing or unwillingly) drawing the protagonist into opposition against them, while the true conflict happens elsewhere.

2. To Create Layers of Complexity

One of the most delicious things about character misdirection is its ability to create complexity and nuance within the story. Instead of black and white good guys and bad guys, you’re able to present readers with characters of subtlety and subtext. Whose side are they really on? What is their true moral alignment? What shades of gray influence their convictions? The possibilities for thematic explorations and consequences are vast, as false characters are able to influence your protagonist in first one way and then another by commenting on both sides of the thematic premise.

For Example:

False Allies create complexity by winning the protagonist’s heart while sowing seeds of the Lie and luring the character away from her Truth.

False Enemies create complexity by first hardening the protagonist’s heart against the Truth they’re trying to share, then winning her over to reconciliation and a keener understanding of the true thematic premise.

3. To Challenge the Protagonist’s Beliefs and Complacency

When the characters around the protagonist fail to fit neatly into boxes, according to the protagonist’s initial world view, you open the door to all kinds of personal catalysts within the protagonist’s character arc. False Allies and Enemies will challenge the protagonist’s established views of the world. Just like Pip in Great Expectations, sometimes the people we believe to be good turn out to be bad, and vice versa.

For Example:

False Allies challenge the protagonist’s beliefs by creating a dichotomy between their seductive words and their dark actions in opposition to the protagonist’s goals.

False Enemies challenge the protagonist’s beliefs by disproving his prejudices and leading him to believe Truth can be found even in unexpected places.

4. To Turn the Plot

The revelations that arise from character misdirection can be wonderful plot catalysts. When the protagonist discovers the false characters’ true nature, the plot and its conflict necessarily advance by leaps and bounds.

For Example:

False Allies turn the plot by forcing the protagonist to recognize he’s been betrayed—or perhaps even lured into betraying himself.

False Enemies turn the plot by forcing the protagonist to make up for the ground he lost by ignoring good advice—or perhaps by having to save his newly-realized ally whom he he just betrayed.

5. To Create Suspense and Plot Twists

The old “is he good or bad?” question that hangs over the heads of most false characters has the ability to create untold suspense. Readers will race through your pages, wondering if your protagonist is about get stabbed in the back. As William Cane points out in Write Like the Masters:

You can use the same Dickensian mystery story technique in your own work by purposefully withholding crucial information, such as who a friend (or enemy) of your hero really is.

The revelation of the truth often makes for some of the best and most moving opportunities for effective plot twists.

For Example:

False Allies create suspense by casting doubt upon themselves and making readers wonder if they can really be trusted around the protagonist.

False Enemies create suspense in exactly the same way before eventually dispelling that doubt instead of fulfilling it.

Character misdirection is a delightful game authors get to play within the pages of their stories. Who’s good? Who’s bad? We don’t know! That sense of curiosity will entrance readers, raise the stakes, and keep them reading right to the very end.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you used character misdirection by including any false enemies or allies in your story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. SOOO important.

    Using these people is usually the key moment where a story starts to move beyond simple “good vs evil”, or at least starts to engage the hero’s struggle to understand that with the most powerful tool in the book, the cast of characters. Without characters like this, the Truth and Lie have little to save them from becoming obvious.

    Especially, thank you for laying the options out like this. This shows how to pick characters based on which zigzag they add to the protagonist’s growth, but remind us all the way that those people can have any kind of their own reason for doing it. Not everyone’s a deliberate double-agent.

    (One rule I like about these: a character *changing* and a character *revealed* as actually something else are two sometimes interchangable ways to move the story in these ways. Of course the meaning and the setup for the two is different, but in the larger sense they create the same result.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I totally agree. So much thematic scope in these characters. Never know what good stuff you’ll uncover in using them!

  2. HonestScribe says

    Interesting. This sounds like real life sometimes, and definitely makes for better stories.

    Maybe this is the real reason the Hunger Games series was so popular, besides its frightening premise. (Spoilers ahead.) The series is chock-full of characters like this: Haymitch, who starts out as a surly, apparently worthless drunk who becomes a surly but useful ally; Peeta, who starts out sweet-natured but is brainwashed into being a paranoid lunatic; and President Snow, who isn’t quite the threat Katniss believes.

    Actually, come to think of it, this is probably the real reason most franchises become popular. The Marvel movies use these types of character twists all the time, especially in Captain America: Civil War, and Star Trek uses this device, as well. While not as popular now as in the 1980’s, the real fun of watching G.I. Joe cartoons (or reading the comics) is seeing the Cobra characters stab each other in the back. Series with scores of characters become kind of like a dysfunctional extended family, I guess.

    For some reason, I have an easier time writing the False Enemy than the False Ally. Sure, some of my protagonists’ allies can be jerks, but they wouldn’t do anything truly nasty to them. Usually, I can think of some pretty cruel twists to pull on my protagonists, but making a friend and enemy just isn’t usually one of them. Maybe I’m just being too nice?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I almost used The Hunger Games several times for examples in this post. Peeta is a good example too in the third book after he’s brainwashed by the Capitol.

  3. Nice. Glad to see it all goes into embodying the Lie and Truth too.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Exactly. Ultimately, all of story serves the Lie and Truth, because the Lie and the Truth are the heart of the theme.

  4. Andrewiswriting says

    Another great post!

    I love character misdirection, but I think it has to be done with care. I notice you didn’t mention Severus Snape in your post. I think many people would point to Snape as a mighty example of character misdirection, but there were numerous examples (in the writing, not so much I the movies) where Snape’s behaviour was inconsistent with his final revealed loyalty, but put on the page purely to mislead the reader. I often felt cheated reading Snape. I think it’s important not to cheat the reader just to serve the plot.

    In The Cup of Jamshid I have a (not-too-subtle) false ally, a false enemy who is a little less obvious, and (not actually fitting into the archetypes you’ve described in this post, but still character misdirection) the ultimate series Big Bad, who is masquerading as another character.

    Two of these are revealed in the first book, the ongoing trick for me will be making sure the big reveal of the third character makes sense and that the character’s behaviour is never arbitrary purely to maintain the secret.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree it needs to be done with care (as should all of writing, of course). Consistency is key, which means the early red herrings need to be presented with care, so everything makes the utmost sense in the end.

  5. False Allies and False Friends are my favorite! In my current story my protagonist belives another character to be a bad guy, and this character also think that protagonist is the bad guy, but actually they both have the same goal, they just don’t understand it yet. I basically use their conflict to explore my Truth, because at the beginning every one of them knows only a part of it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m really loving them in my current WIP too. So much complexity and interesting possibilities, for both the plot and the theme.

  6. I thoroughly enjoy these blogs, but rarely have anything to add or contribute.
    This “misdirection” blog is particularly valuable and worthy of serious study. This might be just the trigger I need for my WIP.

  7. I think you just solved a problem for me in my WIP! False enemies is going to be just the level of conflict I want for the lighthearted romance novella I wrote during NaNo that didn’t end up with much of a plot/conflict. Thank you very much, ma’am! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      False enemies/allies can be especially fun in a humorous setting. Stories of mistaken identities are rife with opportunities of this kind.

  8. Roberto Fiocco says

    Personally I’m not using this kind of character in what I’m writing now, but I think there are readers who hate them, because of the double nature they have in the story. The major example I know, already mentioned, is Severus Snape. I think these characters, as you said, need to be consistent maybe showing a few hints of their real nature, or the reader will hate them and the story too.

    • And yet, Robert, you have to remember the tremendous reader response to the Potter stories. I don’t think the turnabout of Snape was disappointing or disturbing, but more jaw-dropping and delightful.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Snape’s actually a great example. People either love him or hate him–and either way, a character who can inspire that kind of emotional response from readers is always a worthwhile character.

    • Yeah, forshadowing (which I guess is really just making sure everything is consistent for the reader) is key to making any plot twist or misdirection work. If the reader can’t look back after the reveal and see all the little hints that were there all along, they will likely feel cheated or just comfused because it won’t make sense with what has been presented to them up to that moment. Luke being a Jedi in the first movie was a huge reason that the reveal in the second worked, in my opinion, because it was consistent with the information we got in the reveal. Another reason it works is that Lucas wisely had Obi Won explain to Luke why his explanation of Luke’s past in the first movie contradicts the reveal; if he had just let that sit without explination, I for one would have found the story much less compelling because of the inconsistency.

  9. I sort of used misdirection in my last novel although it wasn’t really part of the main plot. What happens is that the protagonist’s mother, five years after her son shoots up his school and then turns the gun on himself, joins a peace group committed to non-violence. She meets a really nice man in the group who she becomes intimate with. However, it turns out that the man is an undercover agent for Homeland Security who uses the protagonist’s actions to destroy the reputation of the group.
    What I was trying to show here in the case of the mother was that she could never truly escape from the reality of what her son did. This is just me thinking here, something most of your posts get me to do a lot of.

  10. In my novella there is a false ally who is Mareen a mermaid who wants to marry Kai, but Kai marries Jewel and she becomes pregnant at the end.

    K.M. Happy New year. I am writing more of my novella then I am going to revise it.

    Do you combine your scenes when you write?

  11. Jeffrey Barlow says

    Excellent article, Katie!

    My trilogy is ripe with characters like these as an inherent result of the theme and plot, as well as the roles of certain characters and factions.

    These are the most fun characters to write too. They free your creativity. “He can’t do that because he’s the good guy” doesn’t apply here.

  12. Max Woldhek says

    Man, this is my greatest challenge. I recently finished the second draft of my first book, and sent it to a test reader. She found it a huge improvement over the first draft, with lots of things she liked. But she pointed out that there were no plot twists. Every character was who they appeared to be, and no turns in the story surprised her. There are so many writing things I need to get better at before I can even dream of sending my stories to agents, but at least with them I have a sense of how to proceed. Surprising the reader, on the other hand? Personally, I’m about as subtle as an elephant seal. I almost never see twists coming in movies or books, so how am I supposed to invent my own?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You said each character was exactly who they appeared to be. But I would suggest that, in real life, few of us really know ourselves that well. We know what we want to be, but we don’t know always know what we need to be, what persona we’re presenting to others, or what we’re turning into without even meaning to (for better or worse). Much of character arc is simply the character *discovering* who they really are.

      If you begin the story by presenting the character as he thinks he is, you can then create the complexity and twists you’re looking for by allowing the character to discover unexpected truths about his true nature as the story unfolds.

  13. Hmmm… wondering if when the protagonist is not the viewpoint character, if making the MC an undercover agent whose goal is to undermine the protag will work in a False Ally who become True Ally arc. Or maybe that’s a False Enemy arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, it can. In that instance, the main character will be the primary POV character, with the protagonist/catalyst character will be impacting him, probably to create a negative disillusionment arc.

  14. Hi Katie,

    I love the use of misdirection. Agents of SHIELD and espionage fiction uses them quite a bit. Mysteries, political and legal thrillers too. I just watched the new Bourne movie the other night and it definitely uses misdirection. It really keeps you guessing. The hints are more visual in nature for obvious reasons.

    A book I read recently had a character who seemed to like he was a false ally, but turned out to be genuine in the end. It provided a nice twist toward the end. The author used a good amount of foreshadowing that built up in the story.

    Great post. I think I’ll play around with this in my story and see what happens.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t seen much of Agents of SHIELD, but I’m pretty sure Grant Ward starts out as a False Ally.

  15. That would be interesting, but I often thought that the protagonist was the main character.

  16. I love love love character misdirection. It makes characters individualistic and loyal to their morals rather than a side.

    That said, some categories of the false enemy puzzle me. For the first one, the double-agent one, you wrote, “The False Enemy might be a double agent, someone who appears to be working for the enemy, but is, in fact, in the employ of the good guys all along.” Isn’t that withholding crucial information from the reader – information that the protagonist knows? I remember an article here that said that can be dangerous as it makes the reader feel left out.

    As for the one who begins as a stereotypical bad guy, a character like that seems difficult to pull off. One would have to convince the reader to stay until the big reveal that he’s not in faction the bad guy. That would be difficult as the reader wouldn’t appreciate a cliche stereotype. Any recommendations on keeping them hooked?

    In general, if the false enemy is distracting the protagonist from the real enemy, doesn’t he/she still pose a threat. If he/she was truly an ally, wouldn’t he help the protagonist? Is it that he/she returns to help the protagonist?

    The false enemy turned true enemy is going to take me weeks to wrap my head around. Doesn’t that mean that he/she was true enemy all along and never the false enemy?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Regarding the double agent, it’s only withholding info if the protagonist knows–and if the protagonist knows then that supporting character is not, in fact, a false ally at all but a true enemy.

      Remember, false allies/enemies are *not* the main character and usually not the main antagonist either. They’re side characters who come in and out of the story, so it’s definitely not their responsibility to keep readers hooked. They can and should still be characters who present shades of gray and complex motivations, so that they’re interesting even if they appear to be (or are) 100% opposed to the protagonist.

      More than anything else, false allies/enemies create conflict. That conflict *will* be an obstacle between the protagonist and his main story goal. But that’s the beauty of these characters. They’re full of shades of gray. The very ambiguity they create around their moral alignment keeps them from being 100% black or white. As you said at the beginning of your comment, they’re usually not in the story to fully support one side of the conflict or the other, but rather to advance their own moral views and goals. They’re often lone operators within the plot, in a sense.

      False-enemy-turned-true-enemy *is* tricky and more often than not is better presented simply as a “true” enemy. However, the important nuance here is that this is a character who is conflicted. He’s an enemy to start with, has second thoughts along the way, then eventually reaffirms his commitment to opposing the protagonist. Basically, he has a “false ally” period there in the middle.

  17. In both my novels, One Diamond Shy, and Trickster’s Odds I’ve used character misdirection so often it’s starting to seem a bit cliché to me. Of course, I live in Plotter’s Field, so perhaps it’s not so evident in reading one of my works for the first time. Can one overdo the character misdirection factor?

    I recognize it does add layers to the plot – but do readers latch on to the ruse?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You definitely don’t want it to become a recognizable pattern–i.e., in that the handsome charmer in the beginning of each of your books *always* turns out to be a scoundrel. But, then again, it worked for Jane Austen. 😉

  18. I couldn’t agree more, but I have a couple of specials of my own. Mainly these are accidental enemies, such as Eva Miles whose character note reads “blessed with stupidity beyond the lot of mortals”. She tries to be an ally but does far more harm than good.

    More tragic is Alan Cook. He desperately wants to help Jane, but can’t accept that people in authority can be very corrupt, he’s just too loyal to the firm. So when it seems to him that Jane is in trouble he explains it all to his boss, with the best of intentions. The problem with Jane is that she is investigating his very corrupt boss, and he’s just blown everything.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Actually “Stupid Ally” could probably be an entry of its own, since the effect is quite the same as a False Ally but with that bittersweet twist. Brooke in my portal fantasy Dreamlander would qualify.

  19. Lance Haley says

    Katie –

    As usual, your writing insight is phenomenal. Funny how these notions about characters and misdirections were vaguely apparent in my ideas about various characters I was developing for my book; characters’ external traits betraying their real persona. But then you gave them “names” (labels), describing them and showing great examples from fiction and film. Now my mind is on fire this morning and I have to start sketching out all of these new character traits. Wow, wow, wow!!!

    Thanks girl. You are the best. Happy New Year!



    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      John Truby really brought this idea home to me in a lecture I listened to last year. Now I’m seeing False Characters everyone in my stories too!

  20. Hey, couldn’t we also call them frenemies and enefriends 😉

    But yes, I see how they could get confusing fast. This seems a common practice of network TV shows, to keep switching character roles and alliances from one season (or even episde) to the next to maintain viewer’s interest.

    Professor Snape still stands out as one of the great switcheroos in my mind, he always kept me guessing until his very last momentous act.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah, totally. 😉 And, yes, thank you for bringing TV into the conversation. TV serials are guilty way, way too often of manipulating character just to create conflict. That’s never cool. Plot must serve the character just as character must serve the plot.

  21. =D this was so fun to read because, in 2016 I turned the 2D side character Kar (who just caused problems and was overall weird; into a False Enemy. I’m still working on him. I’m pretty happy with the first few chapters he’s in. He seems like a grade A jerk and if I did things right not quite that bad? 😛 I’ll never ow until I can find someone to just read the book. I’m having good success on the figment website though. (What the heck is with the people on wattpad? The cridics won’t read past the first chapter no mater how “gripping” they say it is I just don’t get it. I hope on the fig site they will. I don’t know fi I can trust anyone on any of these sites to just spit out the truth already. !@#$

    Anyway, I’m having fun with Kar he just tends to poke and enrage her, all to help in the end. (I’m being vague for a reason *cough.* He needs more chapters though, most of the book is focused on teh main two povs.

  22. I am just writing a story with a very prominent False Ally. Reading your article made me realise that one of the other characters may work better as a False Enemy than the more straightforward character I initially planned.

    With my False Ally I am debating with myself whether to create a bit of foreshadowing very early on, and whether it would spoil the later reveal.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      To me, there’s just so much fun in taking a “straightforward” character and coming at him from a different angle. 🙂

  23. (1) A very common false enemy is the person who falsely believes the protagonist to be evil (“He killed my father, and I’ll turn against him when he least expects it”) and then learns the truth.

    (2) A misunderstood observation is a good basis to start such convolutions (she saw him with a prostitute – not knowing he was trying to save her from her plight).

    (3) There is also the reader-only misdirection. John fully trusts Luke, and confides in him. The reader sees Luke, once alone, time and again write down what he heard – informing the enemy? Later it turns out he merely wrote in his diary (in a mixed variant the enemy, unbeknownst to him, has access to the diary).

  24. Julie Newport says

    I’m working on my protagonist turning out to be the antagonist. I worry about doing this as she is sympathetic thru the book.

    I have been giving hints and undertones that should give the reader that ah-ha moment, in the end, wondering why they didn’t see it all along.

    I wonder if this will leave the reader confused or angry at the end.

  25. I’m still in the outlining stage of my curren WIP, and after reading this article, I realized my antagonist may be a False Ally. Is that alright? He pretends to be on my MC’s side, but is secretly hindering him for his own gain, mainly by use of a henchman. He is recognized as the main antagonist towards the second half of the book by the MC.

  26. I love using misdirection in my writing. Though I call it misinformation. 🙂
    The idea that we can use lies to lead our readers to the truth really inspires my creativity.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. 🙂
    God Bless,

  27. Hello again KM! My question on this article is – how long is too long to set up a False Enemy as a red-herring antagonist before revealing the true antagonist?

    In my story, my protagonist’s conflict begins as Woman vs Society (the broad, external conflict that drives the action of the plot), personified by the False Enemy. Protag is then turned towards her inner conflict of Woman vs Self, as personified by her disillusionment with her Mentor when it’s revealed he’s been using the False Enemy to force her into more morally objectionable and and manipulative behaviours. The thematic question of the whole story is “do the ends always justify the means?”, hence her increasingly immoral reactions to the False Enemy/external conflict leading her to realize the internal conflict.

    As it stands now, the reveal of the true conflict and antagonist wouldn’t be necessitated until the climax of the story…but would that make my readers feel cheated?

    Thanks for your help – your blog is probably the best online writing resource I’ve come across!

  28. Hi KM!
    In my WIP, I have the main antagonist as a False Ally. My story centers heavily around my MC’s belief that no one will love her unconditionally due to her various abnormalities and eccentricities, as well as her desire for family. My antagonist is her cousin, who presents himself as a friend and convinces her that he is the only one who will care about her due to the fact that he’s family, while really he’s using her for his own ends, driving a wedge between her and those who actually love her.
    My question is, what’s the best way to make sure that this twist is foreshadowed properly so I can avoid my readers feeling cheated? Especially since he starts out genuinely caring about her, and undergoes a bit of a Negative Change Arc which concludes with him dropping all pretenses at the Climax, I’ve been having some difficulties making sure that I maintain the surprise, but my readers look back and think “ah, that makes sense.”
    I also was curious if having your main antagonist be a False Ally would end up feeling directionless near the beginning of the story, since he can’t make too many waves with my MC still trusting him.
    This post is really helpful- your whole blog is an oft-used resource on my writing journey!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The major key is making certain the character’s motives and arc are sensible and relatable.

  29. onewordtest says

    My story has a lot of this going on lol. There are two characters who originally present themselve as allies of the false ally, but turn out to be false enemies of the false ally, meaning they were true allies all along.


  1. […] But, you know, sometimes these little delays work out all right. In this case, just this morning, I found some very interesting perspectives on the relationship between the two brothers in my story here. […]

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