“Keep it hush-hush” – Writing Secrets

By: Clover Brooks

So, you’re here because your character needs a secret, huh? I don’t blame you. (Confession: I honestly researched this topic for myself and felt like I needed to make a blog post out of the stuff I found. It was priceless and I thought you guys would love it!)

First, what is a secret? Let’s see what the dictionary says.

se-cret: kept from knowledge or view. (Full Merriam-Webster definition)

Well. That didn’t really help. I’m pretty sure all of you didn’t come here to learn the definition of something you already knew, but we have to start somewhere, right? Good news is, when it comes to writing a secret, it doesn’t always have to be that complicated.

Giving Your Characters a Secret:

1. Every character needs one at one point or another.

A great piece of advice I received a while back was this: your character needs a secret. It makes sense, right? Everyone has something to hide, whether it be an old family recipe, or that you’re still in the closet, or even that stupid video of you eating a live mouse while you were drunk. Some things we just don’t want people to know.

Your character is the same way.

However, they’re secret has to be connected to the plot. It’s a way for us as writers to pull characters into a crazy adventure. Your character has the motivation to keep that secret from the world or, depending on your story, want to share it with everyone. It’s up to the writer, honestly, but that doesn’t change the fact that your character needs one.

2. Your character is a person. Really.

Characters are people. They have feelings they don’t want to share, emotions that they’re afraid to show, and embarrassing moments caught on video that they wish never existed. You need to become your character’s best friend. They’ll you everything if you ask, as long as you treat them with kindness and respect – just like in the real world. They won’t tell you a secret unless you let yourself listen.

I know that sounds… odd… but through my experience, I’ve come to know my characters back to front this way. I know how they’ll react to a certain situation, interact with another character, and what they’re motivations are. Once you understand this and put it into practice, it will help you get ahold of what your character needs. You have to tailor the secret to them and their backstory. It wouldn’t make sense if I made my character afraid of the water if they never had a serious encounter with it.

You have to tailor the secret to them and their backstory. It wouldn’t make sense if I made my character afraid of the water if they never had a serious encounter with it.

3. Ask questions!

Questions and secrets go hand in hand. They bring ideas, fill plot holes, and finish character arcs. It doesn’t always have to be fear related. Secrets are kept for all kinds of reasons. They help move the plot move forward – not by just withholding them, but by telling them as well.

Why are they afraid of heights? Why are they afraid of water? Why won’t they tell their friends that they’re a part of the LGBT community? Why do they always smile around a certain boy? Why are they shuffling cards under the desk at school? Why are they not telling their parents that they have the Mona Lisa painting tucked under their bed?

It also goes the other way around. Other characters in your story will want to ask your character questions. They want answers just as much as the main character, and sometimes it’s what drives the plot forward.

Why do their parents lock them in their room whenever they go to bed? Why does he never look people in the eye? Why does he never wear pants? Why does she never smile?

These kinds of questions open up amazing doors, so don’t be afraid to ask them!

Here are a couple links to great lists of secrets for your character:   [X]   [X]

Well, I hoped that some of this helped you come up with a secret for your character or help you discover the wonderful splash that secrets can create in your novel!

Be sure to keep in mind that we all go through struggles in trying to write a book. Characters stray, arcs are sometimes never finished or are trashed, and sometimes the secrets don’t always match. Just keep working hard and never give up! Because sometimes, when it hits a certain point, that’s all you can do.

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