Can you keep a secret? Some people are lock boxes, secured repositories of their friends’ darkest secrets. Others can’t let a juicy piece of gossip pass them by. I’m pretty good at keeping secrets. People tell me things—although I’m careful to warn them that I’m a story vampire and will use what they tell me as fiction fodder—if it’s truly a secret, I zip my lips.
Secrets—family, business, and state—are compelling hooks for stories. When a protagonist goes on a quest to unearth a secret, he or she can open a Pandora’s Box and discover that deception runs deep in the people around them.
The calculated choice to reveal a secret creates another kind of story. The source of the leak in a government scandal, the insider going public with the reality of a Ponzi scheme, or the angry former lover, estranged relative, or frustrated competitor, may weigh the pros & cons of being a whistle blower and allowing the subsequent chips fall where they may.
Of course the unintentional revelation is also a great gambit in fiction. Secrets whispered by a character talking in his sleep or prodded from a weak character with aid of one too many tequila shots, can move a story along with a sense of surprise or inevitability. Some secrets are just dying to come to light. All it takes is one false move (or a martini) and it’s revealed. While others are a lightning bolt of news.
Ancient secrets, magical secrets, and secrets that imbue power on the secret-holder, are devices familiar to fantasy readers. And, more and more, these secrets turn up in suspense and mystery fiction, too.
I played with a secret and the terrible things that happen once its revealed, in the novel that I’ve written and rewritten and rewritten… Maybe I will try again. And maybe this time, I’ll figure out the secret of making the story work!