What's Your Character's Secret?

Wednesday, May 08, 2019
Characters in movies, characters in novels... If they intrigue us, they have a secret.

Some movies with gasp-worthy secrets come to mind. One is The Crying Game. Before the halfway mark, the character named Dil reveals a huge secret... in a very graphic way.

The Sixth Sense is another. At the end of the movie (I think it's the end... I'm old and forgetful) a sucker-punch of a secret is revealed.

In Sandra Dallas' novel The Chili Queen, one of the main characters reveals a secret at the end that is completely unexpected.

As writers, sometimes we reveal a character's secret to the reader early in the story. Other times, we uncover the secret later... from another character's perspective.

I'm relatively new to fiction-writing. For most of my writing life, I've written short memoir pieces. Pieces about being adopted. Pieces about how my brother put the (not) fun in dysfunction.

Currently I'm working on a middle-grades novel about a 12-year old (in 2019) who gets to know Emmett Till. (Emmett Till? Who's that? THAT is why I'm writing this novel. So many kids have no idea who he is.) The protagonist has a secret desire that will (hopefully) be fulfilled by the end of the manuscript.

What comes first--the secret or the story? Sometimes, all it takes is a secret to awaken our muse.

Frank Warren has a website. He receives hundreds of postcards every week. They're anonymous. And each one reveals a secret.

Here are a few of them:

Think of the short story (or novel) you could write about this pilot...

This nurse or doctor could be the centerpiece of a powerful piece of writing...

Think of of the teenager/middle-aged person/senior citizen who has this secret... What an incredible story they could be a part of.

Frank Warren has done a TED talk. His postcards have filled galleries in art museums. Some are hilarious and some are heartbreaking. The segment that CBS Sunday Morning did on him got me thinking.

A secret sent on a postcard could spur us into writing a story. Seriously. If a secret is being held in the heart of a person... Couldn't that be the beginning of a short story or novel?

I think so.

Please leave a comment with either a secret you have or a secret one of your characters has or a favorite secret you found on Frank Warren's website. (You don't have to specify which choice you made--your secret, a character's or from the internet. Your secret is safe with me.)

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher and a freelance writer, along with being a dog rescuer for Love a Golden Rescue. Currently, she's trying her best to interest an agent or a publisher in her manuscript for middle-graders--and that is absolutely no secret. If you'd like to offer her a publishing contract or you'd like to check out her blog, head to Sioux's Page.


Nicole Pyles said...

Oh I LOVE post secret! I follow the blog and I am obsessed with reading what people reveal about themselves. It's profound and I feel like connects us all. It's like what's interesting about knowing your character's secret is not only what they are keeping secret but who from and why. It's an angle of developing a character and a story that makes me think!

Great post!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I had never heard of it until I saw the segment on the show CBS Sunday Morning. I love your idea of figuring out who they're keeping the secret from... and why.

(And thanks.)

Margo Dill said...

You've made me think! What is my character's secret? I think I need to give her a big juicy one. You are right that when a character has a secret, I am more intrigued.

As for my secrets, well, they are secrets. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Now you've intrigued me about YOUR secrets. ;)

Cathy C. Hall said...

This makes me think of the priest in the confessional and all the secrets he knows--talk about a story! (I think there have been more than a few novels written with this premise which just goes to show how powerful secrets are. Which is why I'm not telling mine, either. :-) )

Sioux Roslawski said...

Oh, come on, Cathy. You're going to make us wait until your memoir's published, right? ;)

Renee Roberson said...

Wow, some of those secrets are so crazy and interesting. I think one of my secrets would be "I never check the box that I'm Hispanic descent because I'm afraid people will judge me and make assumptions about me in this current political climate." I know it's an awful thing to do, but I never know how to define myself.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I don't blame you. This is a crazy time in our country.

S. L. Danielson said...

My character's secret is that his name is not his birth name...he had to change it.

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