Two weeks ago I had the great fun of spending three days at Ridley College, working with the Grade 11s who were writing short stories. Because I was there last year, I didn’t want to go in with exactly the same material I used on that visit, even though the focus for my workshops was basically the same. To prepare, I did more reading about writing, focusing on character and dialogue, and found some great tips that I could pass along.The students’ imaginations went into high gear when I suggested that their character should have a secret. When they were asked to think about their own secret, it was clear that we had struck a chord. We all know something about ourselves or our families that we don’t want other people to know. The students also talked about short stories that they had read previous to my visit; they had no problem defining the characters’ secrets and how they added to the conflicts in the stories.
I challenged them to complete the following sentence from their character’s point of view: “I would die if anyone found out that I ….” We played with a couple of examples and saw how adding a secret gave a character one more challenge to face before he or she reached her goal. The secret upped the conflict and involved the reader.
I wish I had thought of this idea myself, but I got my inspiration from Lee Martin in his chapter, “Subversive Details and Characterization” in Naming the World: And Other Exercise for the Creative Writer, a fabulous book edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. I offer my heartfelt thanks to my friend Heather who suggested I read it.
Do your characters have secrets? Does the threat of revealing them motivate their actions or motivate their reactions to situations and other characters? Think about your favourite books. What secrets motivate those characters? Drop by the comment box and don’t keep your answers a secret! 🙂