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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Shhh....I've got a secret

Can you keep a secret?

My characters can.


Or so I let them believe.

All of my characters have secrets. This wasn’t something I set out to do when I started writing but after a dozen or so books, I realized that secrets and characters go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Sometimes, even the dog has secrets.
And who doesn’t love a good secret?

In Romance fiction, the secret baby is a popular trope. I’ve used it, but my characters’ secrets also have ranged from being a runaway nun to being the queen’s lover.

The hero of my current WIP has a delicious secret—his father haunts him. Boone is torn between wanting to see Pops move on and not wanting to let him go. Oh, and he worries that someone will find out and think him crazy—or worse.

The worse, of course, will threaten his happy ever after, as it should. If the secret doesn’t have the power to turn happy-ever-after into I-think-not why bother?

Sometimes the secrets are obvious, i.e. secret baby. And sometimes they are not so obvious. For instance, I think Scarlett O’Hara’s secret isn’t that she was in love with Ashley (as she thinks) but that she is scared all the time. That secret is buried deep, but makes her more interesting.

By letting the reader watch my hero (or heroine) struggle to keep his secret, the reader will understand why my hero acts like he does without a lot of backstory.

And as an author—the builder and destroyer of lives—I find secrets quite fun to write. I love finding out what my hero (or heroine) will do to keep his secret and how he reacts when exposed.

More importantly, I want to make sure it counts, that the secret is worth the angst. So after I finish the first draft, I go through the secret’s arc as if it were a separate character. I make sure the secret is pivotal to the plot and/or integral to the character. If threatening the secret isn’t threatening, the secret either goes or gets twisted until it is dangerous.

As a reader, what was the secret of one of your favorite characters?


  1. I enjoy reading how others deal with the writing of stories, especially secrets. Your comment about Scarlet begs further examination. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

    1. I have no idea if that's a recognized interpretation of Scarlett, Angela, but when I read the book that's how I explained her overwhelming need for control.

  2. Great post Keena. I think fear is a great secret and a great motivator, but a challenge to write effectively. Interesting that you look at the secret as its own character with its own arc. Must add that to my writing perspective.

    1. I think of a secret like I do setting. It can define the internal world the character lives in.

  3. I have to tell y'all, Keena teaches a KILLER course on "Dirty Little Secrets" and how to layer them and use them in storytelling and character development. I took this online course a few years back and wished I could take it again--I loved it! Keena gives awesome feedback and that course was a real eye-opener. Maybe we could get her to teach it again if there were enough of us to sign up for it!

  4. An informative post, Keena. I wish you the very best.