Writing Tips

Writing Tips: Exposing Secrets

Ever since I posted “Writing Tips: How I Form Dialogue into Writing” I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking for other tips, so I wanted to talk about secrets.

We all have them.

Secrets can make us or destroy us—they can tear our relationships apart or allow us to succeed at our dreams. In reality, secrets can really form who you are by asking the question: Why are we keeping them? What is stopping us from sharing them? Are we afraid we’ll be rejected? Are we shamed? Could it ruin someone we love?

There is an infinite amount of reasons as to why we keep and/or tell secrets.

So what about your characters?

In my opinion, I think every character should have a secret. Even if the secret isn’t exposed in the novel, it will round them out and push them deeper into the plot.

However, your characters’ secrets don’t need to be exposed all at once. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine. Secrets should be stretched over the plot, enticing the reader to relate while learning more about your story’s characters.

As an example, I’m adding November Snow character notes below this. First, you’ll see their name, a brief description, and then the page number where their biggest secret is revealed. November Snow is 600 pages long, so pay careful attention to how the secrets span out. Who is exposed first? Why do you think that is? How do you think the timing effects the other characters (and even the reader)?

….

Serena, the heroine, is the Southern Flock’s second-in-command. She’s a 17-year-old bad blood, and her POV is challenged by her love for Daniel. (Page: 573)

Daniel, the male protagonist, is the leader of Northern Flock, and his 18-year-old POV struggles against society’s hatred for bad bloods. (Page: 459)

Calhoun Wilson saved Daniel’s life when he was five years old. Despite being a former solider, he protects the Northern Flock from the government. (Page: 282)

Caitlin: Serena’s best friends and practical sister. (Page: 527)

Henderson: The candidate running for president of Vendona. He believes in equal rights for bad bloods. (Page: 275)

Ryan: A young bad blood in the Northern Flock who’s body heats up like fire. (Page: 585)

….

I hope this shows how secrets can be revealed over a span of time—rather than all at the end of the novel. Some should come early, while others shouldn’t be exposed, but these characters’ secrets are essential to November Snow by defining the characters, their troubles, and their hope for beating them.

As I wrote in November Snow: “No one wanted to die with secrets in their grave.”

~SAT

As an extra: November Snow‘s highest rated quote on Goodreads: “I would only blame myself if something happened to you.”

If you’re interested in other quotes from November Snow, click here.

24 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Exposing Secrets

  1. That’s really helpful – I’m taking a creative writing course at the moment to help get my own novel idea off the ground, and this has really helped, thankyou 🙂

  2. Hello Shannon, thanks for following my blog. I’m pleased to meet a fellow Sylvia Plath reader. Good luck with your writing! =)

    All the best,

  3. Very good point, Shannon. One of my favorite quiet sayings to myself is “a little mystery is good.” I believe this Idea strongly applies to love relationships, and that it’s a mistake to pour out one’s entire heart and soul and bio to one’s love interest, which could also become burdensome. It also applies to building story, not just mystery story. The writer needs to think about how much ro reveal vs. how much to gradually reveal, stirring the reader’s interest. Think showing the character primarily, versus explaining the character.

  4. Some characters secrets should not be revealed? That’s going to be a challenge, I think. I’m glad I read this, though, because I think I’ve been revealing secrets much too quickly in my work. Very nice. Thanks for posting this!

    1. I really do believe not all characters’ secrets need to be revealed. Look at it like real life, we won’t know everything about everyone, even close people, but the ones we learn from loved ones suddenly are more understandable. By not showing some, you keep a mystery to a few characters.
      Another thing to think about is revealing secrets through a third-party. (Person A tells Person B about Person C’s secret.) Because this happens often, and can cause an interesting inter-mingiling effect within the story.
      ~SAT

  5. Just posted Chapter One of my book on my site. So much of what you say helps. some I knew some I did not. I will be following your posts far more closely. I have a “Character Sheet” for each of my characters. I list things like favorite saying, habits, hobbies, a brief history, and physical description. I had not considered the secrets part. I think it’s brilliant and will be adding it.
    Thanks

  6. I think this is very good advice. The effect is more like life – you don’t discover secrets all at once; you can know someone for many years and suddengly grasp a ‘secret’. I think we relate to characters in the same way – if their secrets are all spilled too quickly, they’re not like ‘real’ people.

    But this takes discipline. There is a tension between the writer’s and the reader’s points of view. The writer (usually) knows the secret and is kind of like a gossip. I tend to spring secrets way too soon.

    I really your illustration – it demonstrates practically something about pacing.

  7. Damon Lindelof, one of the main writers on Lost, had a similar idea. The way they handled revelations was generally pretty good as well – with one secret being revealed, but others remaining hidden.

    I think it also helps to develop a strong ‘inner life’ for your characters, by having them think inwardly differently to how they present themselves, as we often do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s