I’ll confess right up front that I ADORE secrets in books, as both a reader and a writer. Nothing keeps me reading…or writing…like waiting for a secret to be revealed. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever written a book without at least one big secret in it. Often, the whole premise will be built around a secret. Obviously, secrets are one of my favorite “buttons” and I love pushing it!
For me (again as both reader and writer), some of the BEST secrets are the ones where the reader finds out the secret before one or more of the characters do. Think about Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent and how many iterations of that story you’ve seen (movies and especially TV shows) where half the drama and anticipation is in wondering when or if Lois Lane will figure it out. (In my opinion, most of the “juice” leaked out of the ’90s show “Lois & Clark” after she learned his secret.) Characters with big secrets are just plain fun—for me, anyway.
Then there are the secrets the author keeps from the reader—and some, if not all, of the characters—until the time is ripe. Those are a little trickier, because in order not to “cheat,” I think it’s important to give the reader at least a FEW clues. Not so many they’ll for-sure figure it out ahead of time, but just enough that they might suspect and feel vindicated if they discover they guessed right. I’ve definitely used both kinds of secrets, though not necessarily in every single book.
Weirdly, it took writing and publishing more than half a dozen books where either one or both main characters had a secret for much of the story before I figured out secrets are one of my “pet” themes. At which point I deliberately set out to write a whole series based around secret identities! That turned into my popular Saint of Seven Dials series of Regency-set historical romances, which follow a series of Regency “Robin Hoods.” In each of those books, much of the dramatic and romantic tension flows from the current Saint’s secret identity and whether/how the heroine (or, in one case, the hero) will discover it. So much fun!
Not surprisingly, when I began writing teen fiction I absolutely brought my love of secrets and secret identities with me. (Hey, there’s a reason “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was one of my fave shows!) In the first book of my Starstruck series, the heroine learns about a whole series of secrets, each one more mind-blowing than the last. And throughout the series, there’s a whole secret “world” coexisting with the mundane goings-on of high school and small town Indiana. Fun, fun, fun!
In that first book, the reader discovers all the secrets along with the heroine, since the whole story is told from her first person point of view. In subsequent ones, though, often there are secrets the reader finds out before one or more characters do, which is even more fun. Shoot, I even titled my most recent book in that series The Handmaid’s Secret! So yeah, I love, love, love secrets. :)
ps - I’m only just starting to write the next book in that series, and writing this article reminds me that I need to come up with some more secrets—or at least one BIG one—if I’m going to have as much fun writing this book as I have all the others. So thanks, YAOTL, for the extreme timeliness of this month’s topic!