Secrets: The Spice of Story

I’ve been thinking about secrets this week. We all have secrets. We’ve all kept secrets in our lives both for ourselves or for others. We are aware that everyone has secrets they keep.

Most of our secrets are light. A surprise party. An embarrassing thing we did when young. Our real age.

But some people carry heavy secrets. Ones that can eat at you, especially if you carry them a long time. Abuse. Infidelity. A crime.

While they can create difficulties in real life, secrets are what make our stories compelling—and I see three distinct kinds of secrets in a work of fiction.

One secret is the author secret. These are things the author knows that the reader doesn’t. All those questions we are taught to raise, especially at the beginning of the story,  are hints at secrets the author is keeping. In a well-written book, all those secrets will be revealed in due time.

A second is the reader secret. These are things the reader knows that the characters don’t. We all know the tense feeling of knowing the killer is hiding in the closet while the characters are blissfully unaware. These reader secrets build suspense in the story and make the reader a part of the experience.

The third kind are character secrets. These are secrets characters keep from each other. These make the story rife with  misunderstandings and conflict. Juicy stuff! One character may think another is betraying her, when really he is protecting her from something she doesn’t know about. Readers keep reading to see how the secrets get revealed and what the consequences will be.

Secrets in stories create the tension and conflict that draw people into your story.

And in real life, enjoy the light secrets that can be delightful to keep, but if you are carrying a heavy secret…consider that it may be time to finally put it down. Let someone help you carry the weight.

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