“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!
Very good topic, Melissa!
As for me, it is one of the most essential for a blogger. Really.
How can I make a potential reader actually read my post?(after she searched the Internet and landed on my page).
I need to intrigue the reader, right? That is usually done by hooks like questions.
Then how do I keep the reader keep coming back to my blog?
Eureka!!! THE SECRET!
I need to write a series of posts with a secret in it, revealing a bit along the way
Very cool – practical advice indeed.
Alik, I love how you always take the posts on fiction and poetry and apply them to blogging. That’s smart, because fiction and poetry have an entertainment factor that many blogs and other forms of nonfiction lack. However, when you start marrying these different types of writing, some pretty cool stuff can happen.
I think you’ve hit it on the nail Melissa. Secrets are the engines of most great stories. Your plot suggestions for the secret exercises are great. I think I’d like to tackle one in particular but I won’t tell you which one. 😉
No! You’re supposed to tell your secrets in the comments, not tease me! Heheh. I happen to love stories with secrets and twists, as long as they aren’t ones that have already been overdone in hundreds of other stories. Secrets are definitely fun! Maybe that’s because I don’t really have any of my own.
Secrets are compelling.
You’re #5 secret society exercise is particularly interesting. Cloak and dagger affairs wreak of intrigue and adventure.
I love the idea of the secret society story and although a few well-known stories have touched on this theme, it’s fairly uncommon, so I think there might be a lot of room to explore.
I got one but I can’t tell anyone. LOL
Ha ha. Very funny, Coby.
My secrets? I was a circus performer until the age of 5 but gave it up because it ate into my reading time. I love to bake and cook sumptious meals, but only eat dry toast and tea. I had blond, blond hair when I was little and was frequently stopped by strangers who commented on the length of my eyelashes. And I had so many speeding tickets in high school, my friends called me Speedy Gonzales.
(Okay, only one of those is true–which do you think it is?)
I know! I know! You like to bake and cook scrumptious meals!
I was reading the list of 10 things, and thought each one has so much potential!
About #8: A character thinks she has a very private secret, but actually, most of the people close to her know about it. One time I was picturing a story, a superheo story that’s a twist to Superman. Come on, put on a suit and glasses and then nobody can figure out who you are? The truth is, most people around Clark Kent knew that he’s Superman already. They just didn’t want to tell him because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings (What a stupid and obvious disguise you have, Clark!) Eventually there’s some sort of crisis and the secret came out (maybe with the villain’s help). Unfortunately I haven’t yet come up with a good story for it yet. There’s the idea, but I couldn’t come up with other details yet.
Oh, I love superhero stories. Never read comics, but I do love the movies and also books that have that same superhero flavor. And yes, I think Clark Kent’s disguise is pretty lame. Batman is the king of the superheroes in my world.
Secrets is a great writing prompt Melissa. I can’t think of a particularly good secret from a movie or book at the moment, but I did come up with this Mark Twain quote: “I once sent a telegram to 12 of my friends saying ALL IS DISCOVERED – FLEE AT ONCE. They all left town immediately.” 🙂
Thanks, Marelisa. That Mark Twain quote is pretty funny. He left us many wonderful quotes, and a lot of them are humorous.
The first time I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I was totally blown away. (Spoiler alert!) I went through most of the novel thinking Rebecca was this paragon, so the reveals at the end which completely upended all the reader’s assumptions were delightful.
This technique is one I use often on my cat blog, since there are so many misunderstandings and misconceptions about cats. Even though my readers might know the truth, they still love to deconstruct it with me.
Secrets can be planted in any character’s behavior. He’s moody, she’s excitable; tease that you will reveal why, and it adds a dimension to the character that might not even be pivotal to the plot, but will keep up The Narrative Drive.
Hey, that’s a great secret technique – give the character a very prominent behavioral trait and lead up to explaining why. Pretty cool.
Okay … the secret that was true? No, I was never actually a circus performer (although I WAS reading when I was 3). I do cook and bake scrumptious meals, but I EAT THEM. And I’ve never had a speeding ticket in my life (knock wood), though I’ve gotten two warnings. The true secret was that my hair was very, very blond when I was little and that strangers would stop and comment on my long eyelashes … strange but true!
Aw. I thought I got that one right. I guess I missed the “but” qualifier. I had blonde hair when I was little too (now it’s dark brown).
Well, they say the best lies have at least a fraction of truth in them…
–Debs last blog post..Spinning Words
That’s the truth!
I do have to make the point that sometimes the secret has every little to do with the story. I think it’s called a MacGuffin – the secret is nothing but a plot device, but bears no real important in itself.
I like to use this quite a bit (at least, I think I do).
Secrets can be plot devices, and sometimes they’ll add interest to the story when used this way (if executed well). However, I think a writer has be careful not to use secrets that have nothing to do with the plot at all, otherwise it becomes obvious they’re just trying to fill up pages. I don’t think you have to worry about that, Matthew.
I suppose one of the biggest spoiled secrets in the galaxy is that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke’s father! And on a related note, Princess Leia is Luke’s sister. When I was a wee child, none of this really made sense, then when I got older I had a big “Oooohh!” moment and shrugged it off. Kinda anti-climatic I guess.
Anyway, interesting timing for this secret talk. I’m in the midst of a storyline that involves #3 and partially #4, where a grumpy old uncle tells the secret of a certain tragic event that happened to his nephew’s mother many years ago. However, after letting someone read this secret, they felt it didn’t really fit with the story, and was probably better suited for another story altogether.
To fill you in, a young man moves from the city to the country after his father dies to live with his mean antisocial uncle on his farm and rebuilds his run down barn as a movie theater which attracts undesired attention and guests on the uncle’s land. The outraged uncle burns the barn which sparks a confrontation between the young lad and old man and the big secret is told why he is so bitter. (At the moment, the secret is the uncle accidentally kill’s the nephew’s mother when the boy was very young, and he was never told the truth.) Soon after, forgiveness and healing begins and uncle and nephew get along. It’s a challenging little tale I’m still trying to make sense of.
Luke Skywalker’s parentage is definitely one of the most famous secrets in the history of storytelling! Your story idea is excellent, and I know this because as I was reading your description, I could visualize it in my mind. That could be a film or a book.
Ooohhh the Da Vinci Code made me look at a lot of things differently that is for sure! I can’t wait for Angels and Demons!
In the stories I have written, I usually had a character with a secret, as my stories got better, the secrets did too! It is definetly an interesting turn of events when secrets are revealed!
Me too. Actually, I could not put The DaVinci Code down. I think I finished it in one day. Now there’s a story filled with really big secrets!
I love secrets! In a fantastic novel by Holly Black–which I recommend to ANYONE–the main character goes into a coffee shop. Nervous, she starts opening drawers to the table she’s sitting at and finds that it’s full of people’s secrets, all scrunched up, written on whatever people could find. I thought this was a brilliant idea!
The secret I remember the best was, “My best friend, her boyfriend and I went to get coffee. When my friend’s boyfriend wasn’t looking, I switched our mugs and spit in his cup so he would taste me in his mouth.” She phrases it much more eloquently than I do, but I thought that was such a weird, perfect secret!
Thanks for the suggestions!
That sounds like an interesting novel, Kit! The secrets (or at least one of them) were memorable and made an impact on you as a reader, so you know firsthand the power of secrets in fiction.
Definitely! I love those books (Tithe, Valiant, Ironside).
I forgot, though, to leave my own secret.
I’m terrified of commitment and getting to the end of my life and realizing that I’ve wasted so much time and done so many things that made me unhappy. And I don’t want to get married, because I’m afraid that after living with the person for a few years, I’d get bored.
Kit, have you ever heard of Post Secret? You should check it out. I have a feeling you would like it: http://postsecret.blogspot.com/
LOL that sounds like a funny secret. Either it backfired because they hadn’t brushed their teeth, or the guy craved the taste of her after the coffee.
Trying to write a book with a serect but each page tells a bit more so you have to read to the end before you find the full serect is a hard thing to do. Have tried this and come to 20,000 words but it not a full novel. how do I go on to tease it out
I wouldn’t push a story to fulfill some arbitrary word count. When writers do that, I think the work starts to feel forced, and readers can tell when someone is stretching out a piece of writing to meet word or page count. I remember my teachers could always tell too. End the story where the story ends. You don’t have to make it into a novel. You could do a novella or you could cut it some and turn it into a short story. Good luck to you!
I love unexpected twist! I love when something makes me look twice just to make sure I got it! In the Unborn move…SPOILER ALERT!!!!…..when we find out the main character is actually the crazy one I was so shocked! I believed her to be secret-less the whole time!!! I came up with a little twisty poem of my own:
Down, Down So far away
One little girl sits on a bank to play
A little reflection she can see
“My house, and there is me”
But, to her, the reflection wasn’t quite right
Outside it was day, in the water it was night
And here she was happy, she was free
But in the water she was terrified as could be
She ran from the pond with a scream and a shout
But the Mommy and Daddy couldn’t hear about
For the police were too late to save her
She drowned that night, with
Thanks for sharing your poem, Dezi.
Here’s my deepest and darkest secret:
back in elementary and high school, every time my assignment was to write a short story, I could never obey the page and word count limit. I always wrote 25 pages of pure gold and only a rare amount of teachers actually commented on my creativity.
Why is that a secret? It’s a testament to your passion for writing.
Oh I forgot to mention the negative consequence lol. The fact that most teachers in my life neglected to comment on my original ideas held me back from appreciating my own abilities. It held me back from writing consistently throughout my earlier years.
When you’re young and in school, you get so indoctrinated in a way of passive thinking. It all becomes about structure, grammar, proper spelling–which is required for a coherent read–but such a few amount of teachers would ever commend you for your ability to simply create a compelling story.
I always knew I enjoyed writing at some level, but it was never made conscious enough because of the lack of external encouragement from parents and teachers. Of course we’re ultimately responsible for our own behaviours and choices, and that’s why nowadays I’ve acknowledged my passion and write to my heart’s content. After all, having had only 4 teachers (out of the several in my entire life) incite my creativity is better than not having any at all!
Actually, I think encouragement from four teachers is pretty good, statistically speaking. I don’t think I got that kind of encouragement (with my creative writing) until college. I do understand that teachers are overwhelmed with papers to correct, and many bright students slip through the cracks, which is enormously unfortunate. Also, responses to creative writing are highly subjective. Teachers are human and will impose their own judgements on their students’ work. I’m sure a teacher who prefers literary fiction might not find much value in a fantasy story, for example. All things considered, I agree with you: we are ultimately responsible for our own choices and must follow our callings regardless of external encouragement (or lack thereof).
Secrets are dirty little things, we have to always hide them away from others where no one can see them. But we all have them. Most in retrospect are silly but some do affect our whole lives and maybe others as well. While they are the things we don’t let others see, it is also what people are dying to hear from others at a safe distance. As long as they’re not looking you in the eye, people would love to know all of your secrets. Gossip, is about uncovering everything about others while leaving one’s own self intact. The survival instinct to fit in meant life or death to the neanderthals but stunts our creative genius’ because of what will be revealed to the world about you. And the instinct starts to kick in. I can just hear the bullies in the school crowding someone into a corner and saying, “What’s your secret that you’ve been hiding?”
It’s true that most secrets are silly. Several times, a friend or relative has revealed some big secret and I wondered what the big deal was. It’s kind of funny, actually. But it’s also true that some secrets are dark, dangerous, and creepy.
I just have to hear the line “I see dead people” and I am again rocked by the huge secret of the movie The Sixth Sense. Best surprise ever in a movie.
All the clues were there for us all to see. I saw them all when I watched the movie the second time after reading about the clues.
I had no clue the first time.
Yes, that was a good one.
I know I’m late to the party, but secrets power the heart’s engine forward. Hope for the everlasting love that we know lies in the middle of every room stuffed with every tragedy under the sun, keep us, forever like the little kid tossing all the extraneous, ugly BS from the room, looking for his/her present – “there’s a pony in here somewhere.”
In my third novel my character returns to home to care for her narcissistic, abusive father who’s 2nd wife has left him for good. The secret that has driven off the 2nd wife poses a problem for me — do I release it as the scene unfolds or do I leave the secret in the basket with all the other secrets with which my character has to contend on her road to love and wholeness? I love the conundrums of the writing life…
I agree–the conundrums of the writing life are fascinating.