Subtlety when Giving Character Traits...?

Question: My main character is in a relationship with his best friend - but I don't want the readers to know for certain, I want them to kind of mumble 'are they together or just good friends' - so how would I do this? As the story continues, the two characters have to reassure each other and I have a definite plot-point to where I'm going to reveal their relationship for sure. Until then, how am I subtle about it?


(NOTE: this story is action/thriller)

Answer: It's admittedly tricky with a main character, since the reader expects to be privy to his thoughts. However...

One technique is to map out the arc of their relationship, just as if you weren't going to be subtle about it at all, but were planning to incorporate it openly from the very start of the novel. Include all the events related to this arc in your chronological outline of the story (along with all the other events). Of course, there will be times when events in the overall story or the main character's arc, are affected by something that just happened in the relationship arc.

However, once you've worked out the chronology, simply remove the relationship events from the first act (or first two or three) of the story. Maybe you'll insert them later as a flashback or at least fill in the reader at some point about what's been happening.

The effect is to create a mystery. The reader may get the feeling that something's going on, because of how the characters interact in other scenes, but doesn't know what it is. Then, when you fill in the missing information, the reader can think back and realize why characters were acting as they did. You create one of those moments when "suddenly, the penny drops and everything becomes clear" -- like when you suddenly realize your two friends have been sleeping together and that's why they've been behaving differently to each other lately.

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