Jill Weatherholt

Writing Stories of Love, Faith and Happy Endings While Enjoying the Journey

Shhh, don’t tell anyone…

51 Comments

It is wise not to seek a secret, and honest not to reveal one.   ~ William Penn

“Can you keep a secret?” Growing up, this was a common question asked on my elementary school playground. Whether it was who likes whom or who got into trouble, whispers often filled the air during recess. I’ve always been good at keeping a secret. My old co-workers in Virginia called me the “vault” because when I was told something in confidence, it never went any further.

We hold onto secrets to keep other people happy. We want to keep the peace or stay safe, set in their vision of the world, and in their vision of us. It’s not until we gain the trust of someone that we’ll begin to reveal things that might make us look bad or bring pain to others. Despite the reasons, carrying around hidden secrets can take a toll on a person’s happiness.

I love giving my characters a secret. My main character often has a dark and painful secret, something they desperately want to keep hidden. It’s a painful wound, which never healed. This secret, if revealed, would turn my character’s world upside down.

Of course, the secret doesn’t have to be dark. It can be something positive. The main reason I add secrets to my story is to create conflict. In order to create the greatest source of conflict, the secret must stay a secret until I’m ready to reveal it as part of the climax scene. This can create an extra twist of meaning to the ultimate clash between my protagonist and antagonist.

Secrets are an easy and effective tool to hook readers and keep them turning the page. Often it isn’t what a character knows that hooks the reader, it’s what they don’t know.

Do your characters have deep and dark secrets?

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Author: Jill Weatherholt

My name is Jill Weatherholt and I’m a writer. I have a full-time job, but at night and on the weekend, I pursue my passion, writing. I write modern stories about love, friendship and forgiveness. I started this blog as a way to share my journey toward publication and to create a community for other new writers. Raised in the Washington, DC area, I’ve lived in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2004. I hold a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and a Certification in Paralegal Studies from Duke University. My first book, SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE, published by Harlequin Love Inspired released on February 21, 2017 and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. I was the first place winner in the Dream Quest One Short Story Contest in the Winter 2014-2015 competition. In 2014, I placed second in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest. I was also a top ten finalist in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest in 2012 and 2013. I’m a 2010 and 2012 winner of the NaNoWriMo Contest. I love to connect readers, visit me at jillweatherholt.com

51 thoughts on “Shhh, don’t tell anyone…

  1. I’m not at all good with secrets, though if I’m told something in confidence I will try very hard to protect it. Mostly I’m a bit of a “blurter out” though.
    Reminds me- I wrote a post called Secrets a while ago which gave a bit of the history of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. You may have seen it 🙂

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  2. I love that you’re The Vault, Jill. It’s a nickname we call my oldest daughter, but for the opposite reason. Never tell her anything you don’t want broadcasted to the world!

    As I’m reworking my novel, I’m giving one of my characters a secret. It’s not deep and dark, but it’s something he’s kept hidden from his mom. She finds out about it in a very public forum. I hope this is going to work because I’m really excited about developing it, and it’s what I want to delve into with you when I visit!! Eventually I’ll send you the last draft of my novel so it will all make sense when we get together. I like saying “when!”

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    • That’s funny your daughter is named The Vault too! Perhaps she’ll have a future in broadcasting. 🙂

      The secret you’ve given your character sounds as though it will really build some tension. I love that it will be revealed in public, that makes it all the better.

      I like when you say “when” too! I’m so excited for your visit to Charlotte! I need to get to work! I hope you got some writing in during your unexpected 2 day vacation this week. 🙂

      Have a great weekend, Gwen!

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  3. I love this idea, Jill. Have you ever written a character who had a “secret” that everyone actually knew, but the character didn’t realize that? I love secrets for building conflict, and I can’t wait to see how you write that.

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  4. My characters tend to have hidden flaws which become apparent to the reader as the story progresses, in a way I guess that’s the same thing.
    You’re absolutely right about conflict though, Jill – it’s what keeps us reading —-will there be a resolution? Will it be happy or sad? Hmm, lots to think about here, as usual, with your very insightful posts!

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    • Thanks, Jenny! No doubt, you’ve read books that lack the conflict. Either it takes you forever to finish reading or you toss it aside for something more exciting. Of course, neither one of us want our book to be tossed aside.

      Personally, I enjoy a happy ending, but sometimes a sad ending just works with the story. That said, I’d rather my reader feel good when they finish my story instead of heading to the nearest pub. 🙂

      Have a great weekend, Jenny! I loved your post today!

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  5. Yes! A great was to add intrigue to a story without relying on contrivances. Everyone can relate to the idea of secrets.

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    • I love a good secret whether it’s fiction or real life. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to give my character any secrets in your Flash Fiction Contest. It’s hard to write a story in 100 words or less…thanks for the challenge, Eric. Have a great weekend!

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  6. This is a great idea for keeping some conflict simmering in the background. I’ll keep this in mind! Thanks Jill. Hope you’re doing well.

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    • Simmering conflict is always a good thing. I’m doing well, thanks and you’re working too much, Phillip! I’m happy to hear you’re still making progress with your WIP despite all the traveling your day job has required. Enjoy your weekend!

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  7. How’s the song go: LIsten, do you want to know a secret?…
    Excellent post, Jill, and that’s no secret!

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  8. I’m immediately jotting this tip down as a note to be incorporated into my WIP Jill, thank you. And haven’t all of us got a deadly secret we’ll never tell?

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  9. Another beautiful and very interesting post Jill. Secrets add a lot of suspense which I love. The good secret that the character is hiding would make me feel very curious and impatient as to when will it be revealed and of course it will keep my interest going till the end of the story. Excellent piece of writing Jill. Take care and have a lovely weekend.

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  10. Great post, I think a secret may be forming in my head already x

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  11. Hi Jill,
    Some of them have secrets which are revealed to the reader slowly but the main character also has “secret thoughts” which are known to the reader but not to the other characters which I find fun to write and hope will draw the reader into the story by wondering which of the secret thoughts might become part of the action.

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    • Great point, Lynne! The secret thoughts, that could be another blog post. You’re right, when I’m reading a book, I love to know something that the other characters don’t know. I hope you have a fantastic weekend, Lynne!

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  12. Great post, Jill. To be honest, I’ve never really consciously thought much about this before, but it makes so much sense. From now on I plan to be proactive and think about this as I work through new projects (and even my WIP). Sounds like fun. Thanks for the wonderful tip.

    You referenced sweater weather above. I wish … here in northern California we’re looking at 101 today 😦

    Is it fall yet? 🙂

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    • Thanks, Dave! Funny, both you and Roy mentioned not thinking about using secrets to build conflict…maybe it’s a woman thing. 🙂 Give it a shot, I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it.

      Boy, 101 degrees in mid-September, is that typical? It was in the low 70’s here today with brilliant sunshine. Fall will arrive next week, hopefully you’ll get some cooler temperatures soon. Enjoy your weekend!

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      • The temperature this time of year is usually in the low 90’s and 80’s, so the 100 degree day was atypical but not unheard of. This is the same place that maxed out during the summer at 115!

        By next Friday we’ll be in the mid 80’s, and with a little luck, it will feel like fall soon. Weather is pretty nice after that until next summer. Wish it was in the seventies here already 🙂

        Hope you’re having a great weekend, Jill!

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      • Thanks, Dave! I guess the one bright side is you don’t have the humidity that we deal with in the south. Hoping for cooler temps in your part of the world.

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  13. I think giving my characters a secret is a great idea….thanks Jill!!

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  14. Hi Jill! Back from my mini getaway and oasis! Secrets? I love secrets. I’m pretty good at keeping them but I wasn’t so loyal when I was younger. Now, I’m like you!

    Characters represent people we can relate to and since we all have secrets it is only natural and appropriate for the characters in a book to have them too. It makes us feel better knowing we are not alone and it makes it for a more riveting read!

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  15. Great post Jill! I love giving my characters secrets too. Especially ones they may discover about themselves. One of my favorite songs is by The Pierces and has this creepy cool line “Two can keep a secret, if one of us is dead.”

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  16. It’s great that you’re the repository of secrets. That means you’re trustworthy.

    I love character with secrets!!! I dealt with secrets in the novel I finished. But in the new novel, the main character’s secret comes out in the first chapter. But it causes her to be hunted by a secret antagonist.

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  17. The Vault – I like this very much!
    A character with a secret will keep me turning the pages.
    Thanks for another valuable writing lesson, Jill.

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  18. One of my characters in NO EXIT certainly has a deep dark secret, but I can’t tell you which one cause it’s a secret. Your characters sound very interesting indeed. I think I’d love them. Anything out there I can buy?

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    • Well, I guess I need to purchase No Exit to find out! I’ve got plenty of room on my Kindle. 🙂 One day they’ll be something out there, Elizabeth, but at the moment I’m still a WIP. Good luck with your renovations!

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  19. Ah, secrets…I’m terrible at keeping secrets. But at the same time, I’m super nosy, so I’m pretty much the opposite of your William Penn quote – I always want to know the secrets but have so much trouble keeping them! I really try, though. 😉

    I totally agree that giving your characters secrets is a great way to keep tension high. I know there are plenty of sleep-deprived nights in my past when I had to keep reading because I really, really wanted to know what x character’s secret was, even though I knew I had to get up early the next day.

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    • LOL! Nosy and loose lips, you’re quite the combo! At least you admit it, that’s a step in the right direction. 🙂 Oh yes, those secrets will certainly keep us up late into the night. If it’s a good secret, it’s worth it!

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  20. I agree with you. A character with a secret has more depth and makes the writing fun. As for me, I’m horrible at keeping secrets. Want to know what I buy people for Christmas–you don’t even have to ask. I blab right away.

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