A secret that is. Everyone’s got a secret. What were you thinking?
One of my favorite filmmaking tips is as the director, to give each actor a secret about their character. One they can’t share with anyone, but will inform everything they do in every scene.
Secrets can add depth and subtext to a scene that might otherwise be merely functional, or ordinary. For (a poor) example: A character who is hiding a fear of heights, might try to convince his crush not to hike up to a popular make out spot on a cliff despite wanting desperately to make out with her.
While it works really well in film where we can both see an actor’s face, and hear their change in tone when responding to an innocuous request, I think it can also work well in a novel.
You probably already know your main characters darkest secrets, and maybe even some of their love interest’s or antagonist’s, but what about everyone else? This ties in with my previous post “Why Are You Here?” about every character having a reason to be where they are in every scene.
In this case, having a secret can help give conversations between characters more depth and realism. If you know a character’s secret, it will color everything they do and say. It will make the world feel more real, because the people in it are real. It might even change your main character’s or the reader’s opinion of the character, and that can be used to your advantage when working on stories with mysteries. (And I believe every story should have a mystery, even if it’s not a mystery story, but that’s a whole ‘nother post!)
I would bet that if you’ve gotten pretty far into writing the book, that most of your characters already have a secret, you just haven’t picked up on it because you’ve been too busy forwarding the story. If you’re just starting your book, or you haven’t seen your characters dropping any hints, try giving them one and see if it perks up one of your lackluster scenes, or changes the way your characters view each other. You might just make a discovery or two!
What about you, do you give your characters secrets? What are some of the ways you add subtext and depth?