My favorite writerly hotbeds of secret awesomesauce
In honor of Katie’s upcoming awesome release, Dangerous Secrets, I've popped over here (Hi everybody!) to ruminate a little on the subject of secrets, and places I have learned fun and secret things about secrets.
My youth misspent watching soap operas taught me so much about characters and secrets. Thank you, All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. In a soap, when one character has a juicy secret, OMG they can make a month’s worth of exciting shows out of that, just by teasing you and getting you excited for one other character to discover the truth, then next week, another character might find out, and another. You can’t wait to see the look on people’s faces. It’s fun to look forward to things like that. I love books and shows where my anticipation builds and then gets rewarded. If there is nothing fun to look forward to in a book or movie, I dump it. Soaps are the master of using secrets and other devices to build anticipation, maybe because they have to keep you watching. My favorite soap secrets include: a person pretends they are wheelchair bound, but they’re not, and they run around town doing horrible stuff. I also like when characters have other personalities and they don’t realize it, and also, the evil twin.
Husband’s acting class
On a whim, my husband took a beginning acting class. This was years ago, but I remember they did this one exercise where the students had to act out a regular sort of scene—an argument with a carpooling buddy on the way to work, or a traffic stop where you get a speeding ticket. And then they had to re-do the scene, but with a secret. For example, maybe my husband has a dead body in the trunk. Or, the person is his long lost brother. How would his character say those same lines now? What would his body language be? How would he hold his face? Would he overcompensate or deadpan it or what?
I have never taken an acting class like this, or any acting class, actually, because they would kick me out for sucking at acting, but I think about this whole drill all the time when I’m writing. Sometimes it can get kind of mindbendy, because different characters carry secrets in different ways. Sometimes I will stop writing a scene and go from one character to another and think about their private thoughts and feelings and think how that gets refracted through their ways of being. Even if they don’t have important things to do in the scene, secrets and subtext are leaking out.
Secrets and subtext seep out all over the place—from characters, and also, of course, from the physical world—I got really excited about this when I was in my teens reading Sherlock Holmes, and the whole world spoke to him—a person’s scuffed shoes, an umbrella in a strange corner, an absence of dust. Everything belonged to a larger story that he had this special ability to read. The idea of that is really cool, and I think it makes the world so rich. I’m writing this from a hotel room, and I feel sure that if I hunted all around, I might find something that tells me about the housekeeper who was in here, or the previous guest. Well, I hope the previous guest didn’t leave anything, you know, that can be picked up with a special crime light. Yuck, now I’ve creeped myself out. Did I really touch the bedspread? You know, most hotels don’t wash those things!
This is a show that’s about this psychotherapist named Paul (played by Gabriel Byrne) and it takes place almost entirely in his sessions with people. Have you seen it? Paul is like the Sherlock Holmes of people. He’ll talk to a person for 20 minutes, and at the end of the session, Paul will know all this secret stuff about them, and when he reveals it, it’s like this magic trick. I’ll be like, of course, duh! How did I not see that? But, I know why I didn’t see it. The show sort of gets me reactive to the people - I’ll dislike one patient, or feel fondly toward another, or feel like Paul should smack one of them off their high horse or whatever, but those reactions cloud my judgment and vision. Not so with Paul. He takes his ego entirely out of the equation and just soaks up the facts. Of course, he’s also a trained psychotherapist. Still, it’s been this really cool direct lesson on how emotional investment can obscure the detection of secrets. And you know what else I learned from it about secrets? The stories people tell over and over about their life can often be like secret codes to important things about them. This is actually a feature of this show, but I realized it was true about certain people around me and it kind of blew my mind.
It’s no secret that I love putting secrets in books. I love tortured masterminds with secret plans, too. Or when secrets make people dangerous, or vulnerable. In Miss Katie Reus’s new book, Dangerous Secrets, a woman has a secret identity, and there is somebody new in her life who must keep his identity secret from her. Double secret action! Here’s to a month of secrets! Yeah!
Carolyn Crane is the secret-loving author of Mind Games, Double Cross, and a forthcoming third book in the Disillusionists Trilogy. www.authorcarolyncrane.com
Images: Painting: Whisperings of Love (1889) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
File photo: Careful which drawers you open by Ariana Rose Taylor-Stanley
Thanks Carolyn for joining the blog party! Very cool woman that she is, Carolyn is offering a copy of Mind Games to one lucky commenter!
And a reminder to readers that the more you visit/comment, the more times you'll be entered into the month long contest I'm having (grand prize which is described in this previous post will be announced on March 2, US & Canadian residents only)