In my novel, the members of the Cordoba family are secret Jews. They have to keep others from discovering that they follow Jewish practices. This is the most important secret in the story, because it sets up the conflict. But it’s not the only secret—only the most obvious one.

As the story unfolds, you discover that everyone has secrets. They come in various forms: secret information, secret desires, secret fears and worries, and secret beliefs. You can probably spot at least one of each type as you read.

(Believe it or not, though I’m the author of the book, I don’t know:

  1. how many of each type of secret is in the story
  2. which character has the most of any one type of secret or all the types combined)

There is also a secret about each character that I never fully reveal in the story. As I imagined and developed each character, I spent some time journaling in each of their voices. This is where their biggest secret is revealed. Whenever I wrote about what they did, said or felt in the novel, I had their secret in mind. (In a future post, I’ll divulge each of their secrets, so stay tuned).

But even if my story wasn’t about secret Jews, it would contain lots of secrets. That’s because almost all novels include a bunch of secrets. They’re a big part of what builds the tension that makes you want to keep reading. Another reason novels are full of secrets is that they appeal to us. We can relate, because we each have many secrets too.

One definition of a secret is something that is kept hidden, or concealed. Secret comes from the Latin word, secretus: set apart, withdrawn; hidden, concealed, private.

If you think about that last one, private, I bet you can think of at least one secret—something private—that you have. Now, can you think of one for each category from above? Think of one piece of information you keep private, one desire, one fear or worry, and one belief you keep to yourself. Maybe you share some of these secrets with certain people but keep them from others.

Writers, this is a good exercise to do with the characters in your story. It could be fun to do as a reader too. Another idea is to make a chart of character secrets and who knows them, who finds them out, and who doesn’t.