What’s the Secret?

February 11, 2010 at 5:36 am (Character, Planning) (, , , , , , , , )

I was recently reading Elizabeth Spann Craig’s post on Secrets and it really got me thinking because I’m currently weaving a few of these through my most recent story (which was going well and then I rewrote the beginning and then I got busy with work and so is now in the plan and replan phase but I think will work out once I have the time to put some serious work into it – wow, that was a long explainer).

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth’s post and found it really useful because she includes a list of what secret’s are good for in a story and that helped me focus on why I was trying to put the secret into the story in the first place. Once I figured out the purpose of having characters keep secrets from one another and why they were necessary to the story it all suddenly fell into place and now I’m wishing I had the time to really write.

Secrets are one of my favourite plot devices. I love it when we, as the reader, know more about what is going on than any one particular character and I also love it when we’re kept in the dark but once the secret is revealed all the little hints and clues fall into place. What I don’t like is when the story tangles itself into an unmanageable mess and one of the characters suddenly says “oh, don’t worry. I haven’t told you…” That is very much like throwing a ghost in at the last minute just to solve all the problems and wrap it up nicely when there is nothing earlier in the story to support this sudden revelation.

Following on from Elizabeth’s post I started thinking about what sort of characters keep secrets. We all know that in real life some people just couldn’t keep a secret if their life depended on it and others like to throw smug looks around like the cat that got the cream while they wait for someone to ask them what they know. They have to share but they have to be prompted to do so. Then there are those who file the secret away and simply get on about their business. Even when asked to share they simply dismiss it as unimportant and move on. Then there are those who share it but only with their best of friends, because they have to tell someone but they don’t really want to reveal the secret. Of course, as trustworthy as their friends are if they are the type that can’t keep a secret that secret is going to get out.

Can your characters keep a secret and what would they keep hidden?



  1. JackieS said,

    Some of my characters are really good at keeping secrets. Her secrets come from more of a moral standpoint although one has potentially disasterous legal ramifications.


  2. butchie34 said,

    In my latest WIP, my protaganist, who is portrayed as something of an anti-hero, walks with a cane. The reason why he walks with a cane is his secret and he doesn’t want to tell anyone why. His ex-wife accuses him of trying to fish for sympathy and that he doesn’t need the cane. He doesn’t want to tell her because of events which occurred around their divorce.

  3. Lua said,

    For some special reason my main character had to be blind folded when she was with her lover. The story was told from her point of view so through out the story we knew what he smelled and sounded like but we never got to find out what he looked like.
    I love reading stories where we don’t get to learn one of the very basic things about a character that we usually do in real life, so I thought why not try that in my story? 🙂

  4. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Thanks for the mention! 🙂

    There are some characters who could be haunted or destroyed by keeping secrets, too. Depending on the secret. I remember an old movie about someone who was in the car when their friend, who’d been drinking, hit a homeless person, killing them instantly, and then drove off. The friend begged the character to keep the secret–and that secret ripped up both of them up.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. tsuchigari said,

    My duo of main characters are forced to conceal their true identity for a huge portion of the writing. Only a select few know who they really are. Needless to say I can’t wait for the “Ta-dah” moment when they are allowed to reveal themselves.

  6. AlexJ said,

    If I told you my characters’ secrets, it would ruin the story! But yes, both of my main characters have a secret. Or two.

  7. Carol J. Garvin said,

    As Elizabeth has said, secrets can haunt or even destroy, and in one of my novels the MC’s secret almost gets him killed because he doesn’t know that someone else is aware of it. Ignorance is not bliss when your life is in danger!

  8. Carol Kilgore said,

    I recall Elizabeth’s post and at the time didn’t think I really had a lot of secrets in my work in progress. Now that it’s edit time, I realize I do. One character can’t keep a secret. One has a big one. One appears to be open but probably has the biggest secret of all. There are probably more.

  9. Suzanne said,

    I think the most absorbing stories are the ones where the main character is trying to keep a secret from himself. There’s something so dark, so scary, that he just can’t face it, so he tries to lock it away from everyone, himself included.

    I enjoyed your post. It’s got me to thinking more about how secrets are a part of my own stories.

  10. James Roos said,

    As I sat down to think about it, I realized that characters in all three of my novels are carrying around significant secrets. These secrets range from a struggle with a serious illness to an unhappy marriage to illegal financial activity. I agree with you … secrets are a great way to keep the readers turning the pages and even to keep the author intrigued by how his book is going to play out.

    Great post!

  11. Corra McFeydon said,

    A fascinating post! I had never really thought about it, but yes, my three main characters could all keep secrets. They would keep anything hidden that was asked of them, as a point of honor.

    Well, really, one would lie and promise not to tell if she didn’t respect the person who whispered to her, but she’d never break a promise to someone she respected.


    from the desk of a writer

  12. Allan said,

    Great post.
    In my first novel most of my characters have some kind of secret. Some keep secrets because because they are expected to. One keeps her identity secret because revealing It would place her life at risk. Ironically the character who is the most “evil” is probably the most honest.


    Publish or Perish

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