What makes a great story?
What drives plot forward, besides a strong, identifiable goal?
When a character keeps a secret on purpose, it creates conflict, misunderstandings, and high stakes. Characters can keep massive secrets, or simple, little secrets they think are insignificant (Hint: a character’s secret should be significant to SOMEONE in the story when it’s revealed). The bigger the secret kept, the higher the stakes.
Warning: because this post deals with characters harboring secrets, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!
Examples of Secrets:
(or… Superman… or…
ANY other super hero in the entire superhero multi-verses)
Whenever you have a superhero who wears a costume or a mask, they must ultimately hide their superhero identity and maintain a regular life outside of the mask and costume. This having to maintain a Secret Identity creates conflict throughout the entirety of the plot. If a superhero’s secret identity is discovered, then their families, and other loved ones’ lives are at risk.
Here’s 1 of like, 10,000 examples… In the Incredibles, the entire family is at risk, and must move every single time they are discovered to be “supers”
Number the stars: by Lois Lory
Set in Denmark during the German’s mission to “relocate” all Jews, this entire story revolves around secrets; The Johansen family takes in their daughter, Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, (who is Jewish) and conceals her as part of the family. They must keep her true identity a secret at all costs, or it could mean the life of the little girl – and their own lives.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sometimes a secret doesn’t have to be dire, life threatening or heart-wrenching. Sometimes a secret or mystery isn’t a secret that the character keeps all to themselves, but that the character longs to discover. And when they do discover said secret, as little Mary does the Secret Garden, it can transform their life for the better. I saw the movie decades ago, but only recently read the book, and they’re both beautifully done in their own right.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one children’s movie (if you’ve seen the previous posts, there’s at least one in each :))
The premise: (in case you live in a cave or don’t hang out with children regularly or something…) A princess (Elsa) with the ability to create ice and snow accidentally hurts her baby sister (Anna) with her ice powers, and to keep Anna from becoming Frozen solid, a magic troll removes the magic and erases her memory. Now, Elsa must keep a terrible secret from her sister, and the rest of the world, closing herself off from the entire kingdom.
Her secret ice powers drive the entire plot of this story. Without that Secret, and the result of everyone finding out said secret, there would be no story. And no merc and no incredible profit, and no hundreds of little Elsas and Annas running around every Halloween.
The Count of Monte Cristo: by Alexandre Dumas
This book is chock full of secrets. Secret identities, secret treasures, secret infidelities, a child who thinks his father is one man, when it’s really someone else. But what drives this story, and gives it the beloved title everyone knows so well, is the secret treasure that Edmond Dantes finds on the island of Monte Cristo. Without finding that treasure, he would not have been able to create his identity as the Count of Monte Cristo and use his riches to both give back to those who were good to him before his incarceration, and enact revenge on those who framed him. We would not have the story of the Count of Monte Cristo, but of some unfortunate soul lost in a political prison for life, which is infinitely less interesting.
In case you’re curious, the Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite all time stories 😀 I also love the movie, although it does not compare to the book.
What’s your favorite story with secrets?
Check out the rest of my series on what elements make a great story: