“Ssh, don’t tell anyone. Put it in the vault!”
Most of us have had those very words whispered into our ears. In fact, most of us have probably whispered those words into someone else’s ear.
They say everyone has a secret. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that secrets sure pique people’s curiosity.
And if you can capture a reader’s curiosity, you’ll have them hooked.
That’s the essence of today’s fiction writing prompts.
The Power of Secrets
Don’t your ears perk up just a little bit when you hear the word secret? And don’t you get all quiet and attentive when someone says, “I have a secret to tell you?” Secrets are powerful. They imply mystery and drama; they evoke suspense and build tension; and they capture people’s attention. Most importantly, they keep readers turning pages.
Secrets can be integral to a plot, but usually the secrets belong exclusively to characters. In fact, sometimes a secret will shape a character’s personality. How would keeping a secret for decades impact a person’s behavior? What kind of secret would weigh on someone’s conscience? How do the other characters view someone who can’t keep a secret?
There are big secrets and little secrets, important ones and silly ones. Some secrets are cliché (“She had a baby and gave it up for adoption”) and others are funny (“One time, at band camp…”).
The best secrets are surprising. I’m not talking about the sitcom variety of the misunderstanding, where one character overhears another and gets the wrong idea. I’m talking about secrets that, when revealed, make readers’ jaws drop.
Secretive Fiction Writing Prompts
Think about the secrets in books like The Da Vinci Code (aff link) — secrets that shock you or make you think about the world in new ways. Try to come up with some interesting secrets for your fiction. Use the fiction writing prompts below to write a scene, a whole story, or to come up with some really great character traits or plot twists.
- A character is harboring a secret that is preventing them from fulfilling a true desire.
- Two characters share a secret, but it’s not what everyone thinks it is.
- It’s an old family secret, and there’s only one person alive who knows about it. Will they take it to the grave?
- There’s a secret and everyone knows about it except one particular character and it happens to affect that character the most.
- There is a small group of people who meet in secret at regular intervals.
- A character has a secret, and if anyone found out, it would destroy his or her life.
- One character discovers another character’s shocking, sad, or terrible secret.
- A character thinks they have a very private secret, but most of the people close to them know about it.
- A character knows a secret that would destroy one person’s life but save the life of someone else.
- There is a secret that would affect everyone on the planet, but only a small, elite group of characters know about it.
Tips for Writing Secrets Into Your Fiction
Writing secrets into your story can make it a lot more exciting, and you can conjure up secrets whenever a character seems flat or the plot is thinning out. But you have to be careful with secrets. Here are a few final tips for writing secrets into your fiction:
- Avoid common or stereotypical secrets unless you can give them a really intriguing twist. Examples: sordid affairs, the family member you never knew you had, the person who went to prison but didn’t commit the crime, etc.
- Usually, the audience gets in on the secret before a key character does, but don’t let it out too early. If you can, reveal the secret over time and make it a guessing game for the reader to figure out.
- If you build a lot of tension, you better have a secret that delivers. There’s nothing worse than a lot of buildup for something like “I’m the one who broke your favorite snow globe in second grade.” Try to come up with a real doozy.
Tell Me Your Secrets
If you have any secrets (real or made up), feel free to leave them in the comments, or post a secret from a novel or a film that you thought was especially clever.
Have fun with today’s top secret fiction writing prompts (how could you not?), and keep writing!