Avoid writing concealed identity story

One kind of plot you should avoid is the concealed identity story. This involves keeping the main character’s identity or true nature secret until the end of the story, often the last line. Sometimes called “shaggy dog stories,” this plot is popular among science fiction writers, though it’s turned into a cliché. Probably any reader who has watched old “Twilight Zone” episodes, for example, can recall an episode in which the two people marooned on a planet are named Adam and Eve.

Because we’ve seen such stories in our childhood and because they had a big impact in those formative years, we think they’re cool. They are. The revelation is a surprise, and there’s a certain joy in suddenly recognizing – or rewatching/rereading to identify – all the details and hints given so that the revelatory last line makes sense. But such stories have been written ad nauseum in which the main character turns out to be God or Satan… a dog…a cat…a computer game icon, etc. Except to the first-time reader of such a story, they really aren’t surprising anymore.

A subtype of this kind of plot that you also should avoid writing is the amnesiac story. In this plot, the main character does not know who or what he is, but that surprise is revealed at the story’s end as well.