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?