Friday, January 28, 2011


Bouncing off of a subject my good friend, Geri, mentioned in her Synopsis blog, one of my favorite parts of writing is creating my character’s secrets. Secrets help give your characters emotional depth. We can all relate to someone with a hidden something in their past. We all have those juicy little tidbits that we’ll go to our grave with, or we’ll die trying.

As Geri pointed out, secrets don’t have to be earth shattering. Secrets can be as simple as someone who’s been married before but for some reason doesn’t want anyone to know, or someone who is lying about who they really are; perhaps she/he has stolen someone else's identity.

It helps if the character believes that if their secret is revealed their life will be ruined forever. A secret can also be more complicated and challenging, such as a past discretion that is in direct opposition to what their goals are now, like a politician’s illicit affair, or Miss America’s past job as a stripper. The secret doesn’t need to be gigantic to make the story move forward, but try to make it as big as your story can handle. The larger the secret, the more dangerous the risks the characters will take to safeguard their past, which will take the story in surprising directions and make the outcome more gratifying.

The situations which your character creates out of the need to keep their secret must change the way they see themselves. In other words, the situations elicit character change. The character wants to change, but they are not sure what to do, because it’s difficult and frightening to reveal something so confidential about themselves. They are conflicted about changing. But in the long run, they will have to come face-to-face with their secret instead of continuing to hide. And even though the guilt of covering up this secret becomes difficult to handle they will go to many lengths until there is no other option.

The penalty of revealing this secret must be genuine for the reader to believe the secret’s validity and the character’s motivation behind wanting to hide it. Their guilt of deception becomes heavier the closer they get to the heroine/hero. Whether it’s the disposition of the secret or the character’s actions necessary to continue to hide the secret, the consequences must jeopardize the future happiness of your characters. Otherwise, your readers could care less how the characters or the story develop.

The trick to revealing the secret is to dribble in bits of smaller lies and deceptions throughout your chapters that are used to cover the secret, and then little by little more is revealed until the big secret is exposed and the character is psychologically stripped and defenseless. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, one lie at a time, torturing your character. That’s what it’s about, right?
Only when the last tidbit is revealed, when the full secret is laid out in the open, will the character then have to rely on faith that they will not be rejected by the hero/heroine. Their internal conflict is to keep the secret, save the hero/heroine, and try to find ways to do both of these things, but they fail. Of course, in romance, in the end, the hero/heroine forgives the other for the secret and they live happily ever after, we hope.

It’s a good idea to wait until the last third or fourth of the story to reveal the severity of what is at stake for the character and why revealing the contents of the secret is so devastating to them.

I know, lots to take in, but I hope this has given you a few guidelines on how to filter information throughout your story for some juicy and interestingly devastating secrets.

Happy Writing!
Wendy Treitel

1 comment:

  1. Wendy, super great post! I love secrets and it's something we all have and do our damnest to keep hidden.

    Good Job, Wendy