Secrets

copy{writer} fiction & publishing

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Last weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at the Decatur Book Festival with David Samuel Levinson and Tom McHaney.

The panel took place in Eddie’s Attic, an amazing little pub and music venue just south of the square in downtown Decatur. You have to walk up a funky flight of metal stairs to get there. I’d like to go back sometime. The topic of our talk, which had been assigned to us by the organizers of festival, was “Secrets.” And I’d love to tell you what we talked about, but then I’d have to kill you.

Awright. Secrets. Turns out we all have quite a few of them. In David’s novel, ANTONIA LIVELY BREAKS THE SILENCE, secrets and intrigue help develop a complex story of death, scandal, and ambition in a small college town. In HEART OF PALM, members of the Bravo family keep a number of secrets from each other—from Ponzi schemes and deliberately missed medications to infidelity and culpability in a brother’s death—and they each have their own motivations for doing so.

It occurred to me last weekend that using the device of a secret is a great and powerful technique in storytelling. Secrets bring built-in conflict. When one character knows something another does not, tension is escalated and the narrative’s stakes are raised. The reader becomes more invested—we have more information than one or more of the characters, and thus are compelled to see the story through and find out what, exactly, will happen when the truth eventually comes out. The next time I’m stuck on a character’s development, I think I’ll hand him or her a secret and see where it leads.

But as David pointed out, giving a character a secret is a bit like giving him Chekhov’s gun. If the secret is revealed to the reader at the beginning of the story, the expectation is that the secret will somehow be revealed to the characters by the end. What consequence? That’s the story.

Incidentally, in a phenomenon I think David and I both explored in our novels, it’s harder to keep secrets in small towns. Oh, yes it is.

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Dinner in Decatur with some pretty amazing people: Gina Webb, Robert Olen Butler, Jon Mayes, and Margaret Wrinkle. Thank you, Jon, for the panel and dinner pix!

 

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PS, turns out I’m not very good at WordPress. Why are these photos so small? This stuff is hurting my head.

 

 

 

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