Instant Plot! Just Add: Secrets!

Instant Plot! That’s right.  This month, I want to tell you how to construct a plot for your book with four easy story ideas.  Because I’m an expert.  Rather, I should say I’m an expert when it comes to all the ways that plots can go wrong, all the cliches that desperate authors default to when the plot is being rebellious, and all of the creative ways one can bang one’s head against a desk when the plot comes to a grinding halt and dies in the road.

So I’m an expert on plot problems.  But that’s basically the same thing, right?

Every Wednesday of this month, I’m going to focus on one common way that we make plots twist and turn and move forward.  They can often be cliche and can sometimes be clever, and as usual, I want input on the ones you’ve used and how you’ve used them and when you’ve seen them used well or poorly.  I always like hearing about a good bad cliche!

secret garden door

Secret Door

So this week’s plot twist is a very broad one and I don’t think any of us can claim not to have used it.  This one is called the “Big Secret” or the “Secret Revealed.”  This is one of the favorites of your average soap opera.  Because whenever a character keeps a secret, you know that the secret is going to come out and that when it does, it’s going to be in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.  Just because the soaps do it doesn’t mean that no one else should, but because the soaps do it, we know we need to be careful. Execution is everything.

And secret executions are even better.

Sorry.

Secrets are the sewage system of the plot.  They are there connecting everything together.  There are of course the big secrets that mean the difference between salvation and destruction (just who does have your ring, Mr. Sauron?) and the little secrets that add up into one big mess of secrets that somehow spontaneously regenerate into new secrets (this always happens to that enterprising girl who pretends to be a boy so she can be a warrior instead of a lady).

Why do we like using secrets in our stories, both on the grand and the small scale?  Well, the very obvious reason is that when you are combatting a great evil, you don’t want that great evil to know what you are up to.  Conversely, that great evil is probably being very coy about his/her plans as well.  There is always a grand game of secret-keeping in an epic tale.  

The second aspect of a secret – that which goes hand in hand with keeping a secret – is telling a lie.  If you withhold the truth, you often (not always, but often) simultaneously lie to the person to whom you choose not to share the information.  And so, when our characters are made to keep secrets, we are placing on them the burden of a lie.  This adds conflict within the character (How could I lie?!) or conflict in the plot (How could you lie?!) and certainly plenty of chances to build or deconstruct a character (It’s just a little secret…so what if I’m lying?  Am I a villain?  Oh well…).  So we use secrets to build plot and characters, to provide that much needed drama that keeps our reader’s interested.  Nothing stresses out a reader more than watching a character decide to keep a secret when s/he shouldn’t or waiting for the character to discover something that s/he needs to know.

hedgie hedgehog

This hedgehog is trying to be secretive.

What’s fascinating about secrets in stories is that it is up to the author whether the reader is aware of the secret.  While the character is keeping or seeking out a secret, the reader may or may not know the answer, and either method (letting the reader in on the secret or keeping him/her in the dark) can build up the tension in the telling.

Of course, every Instant Plot idea has its weaknesses.  We have to be sure that the secrets our characters keep or share make sense.  There is nothing so frustrating as reading about a character who makes a dumb decision for no better reason that we can determine than that the author needed the character to do it.  “Oh, I won’t tell my friend that I found out her father is the Dark Lord of All That is Evil because that sounds like an awkward conversation and I’m sure it won’t be a problem later on in our epic quest to save the world… from the Dark Lord…”

So as you look at your own writing, what secrets do your characters keep or tell or discover?  Is there a reason that they exist beyond the drama that you want to excite in your readers?  Do you let your readers in on it or not?

Next week, we’ll take a look at another Instant Plot solution.  Feel free to guess what you think it will be.

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About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on September 4, 2013, in Cliches, Fantasy, Humor, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Plot, Story, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What does the Hedgehog know, and when did he know it?

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