Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | July 3, 2012


I wasn’t able to make it home for my last family gathering, but I phoned while everyone was in one place. The nephew who answered the phone joked that they were sitting around telling secrets, so of course I begged each family member for a secret. 

The answers I got from my family weren’t real secrets (a trip, an invented secret, a resolution, and evasion), but their secrets were great conversation starters, and at the end of the phone call,  I understood much better the reasons one might want to give a character a secret.  

Secrets, even non-secret secrets like my family’s secrets are a perfect way to deepen characterization.  They’re good way to show what your character cares about, who your character cares about.

I’m working on a young adult novel right now, so I revisited , a community art project where people post their secrets anonymously. Some are heartbreaking, but some are funny and wonderful, and they all tell you volumes about the person who wrote the secret.  My visit to Post Secret solidified my understanding that a character’s secret doesn’t have to be monumental, it just has to be a “secret”. 

Secrets can add tension to a story, or create an unexpected plot twist. People keep secrets because they are afraid or ashamed. They keep secrets to protect someone, or themselves. Secrets make people vulnerable. Secrets can make people sick. Secrets unveiled have consequences. Secrets create questions.

What lengths would your character go to keep a secret? What lies would they tell? 



  1. Funny that you write about this topic now, Gwen. Just today, reading again the listing at Publisher’s Marketplace, I thought again about how many of these blurbs contain something to the effect of “…and the secret that threatens to rip them apart.” Secret = instant conflict, and many people use them to drive their stories. Including me, in my WIP!


  2. What a great post! I’m writing a short story right now and some secrets would definitely help build tension. I’ll have to visit that website.


    • I think you’ll like the PostSecret website. It’s really something special.


  3. Some of the characters in my tales have whoppers of a secret. Some of them might kill to keep a secret (it happened in my WOP Steel Rose). In one of my anthology tales, a family secret caused someone’s death. In another, a character had a secret craving for cheese snacks and kept them locked in a suitcase, away from her nosy boyfriend.

    Secrets are the joy of writing!


    • I can see how a longing for cheese (or chocolate) would cause someone to take extreme measures.


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