From the time we are kids we keep secrets. That we bullied our sister, shoved our Brussels sprouts under the table to feed to the dog, that we have a crush on the kid next door. We invent the craziest stories to get out of telling our secrets and the further we go on the path of deception, the more lies we tell.
As adults our secrets are a bit more complicated. Maybe they are kept to protect someone we love, to save face in our community, to protect our hearts from rejection, or maybe they are kept to keep us from danger.
We all keep secrets, so what about your characters? A secret is a great tool for plot tension and twists.
Here are some tips for giving our characters plot changing secrets:
*Take a truth from our values that would facilitate a certain response, then find an opposing value to pit against it.
Truth: We find evidence to a murder investigation.
Value: Says we turn it in, so the Police can catch the murderer.
Twist: Our uncle’s war medal is found with the evidence.
Decision: We must choose to report it, not report it, or take out the evidence that implicates the uncle in the crime and turn over the rest.
Truth: You’ve been offered a job as a nanny that you want to accept.
Value: Being gainfully employed and not mooching off of family.
Twist: You have a stalker and you worry he might harm you or the kids.
Decision: Take the job and not tell the family of the situation, turn down the job to keep the kids safe and loose your independence, or tell the family and accept the job if they will still hire you.
*Take a secret of our characters and give that knowledge to someone who will use it against them.
Secret: Tammy used to be an alcoholic before she became a Christian. Her fiancé lost his brother in a drunk driving accident.
Deviant: The fiancé’s former girlfriend discovered Tammy’s secret. She uses it to position herself as of maid of honor.
Lie: Her fiancé won’t love her or forgive her if he knows the truth.
*Use a secret to create contradictions in the character’s behavior that causes misunderstandings.
Secret: Anna is always picked last for everything, ever since grade school kickball at recess. She avoids situations where she will be left standing last.
Situation: There is a Picnic Lunch Auction to benefit the new wing of the church where the nursery will be expanded.
Choice: She refuses to take part in the auction, afraid she won’t receive much of a donation and will be humiliated.
Confusion: The ladies on the committee think she is being a snob, just because she is an old spinster and doesn’t have children. The hero thinks she doesn’t like kids.
Secrets are amazing tools for the writer to up the tension. What are your favorite character secrets, either in film or print?