Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Secret Lives

In a lesson on character development once I heard that the instructor always gave their characters a secret. Not that the readers would necessarily ever know it, but just something deep inside the character couldn't tell anyone. So I added a line to my character sheets right after the name of the character that is their deep dark secret. Things about them that even their best friend doesn't know.

We all have secrets that we rarely share. Are you afraid of spiders? Do you fantasize about being a figure skater? Do you have six toes, a receding hair line, or a relative you are ashamed to claim as family?

Sometimes our secrets are harmless and sometimes I give my characters harmless secrets as well. But other times the secrets that we keep can haunt and hound us until they seem impossible to face. Our characters should have these secrets too. Not every character needs a drastic, life threatening, ax murderer type secret, but everyone of your characters will be more realistic with a secret and a dream. It makes them easier to write and almost automatically more interesting as you write them.
So now your either thinking about your secret or wondering what mine is. Which ever it is you can channel it into your character development.

I had a character whose secret was that she was a fairy godmother, posing as an attorney and old maid. She couldn't tell because then she would lose her powers. Obviously this one the readers were in on.
Another one hated her mom's famous meatloaf, but ate it everytime mom made it because she couldn't bare to hurt her mom's feelings.

What secrets do your characters have? Why can't they share them?


  1. I have a character whose secret is that she has a dark side that she works hard to repress.

    Was that secret formed from personal experience?


  2. Great post Donna! Such a good tip and so true.

  3. One of my characters is secretly a clothes horse, but that doesn't play into the story much. :)