I have secrets. Secrets that one or two of my closest soul mates may know, but that I intentionally keep hidden from the rest of the world. Are you curious?
The truth is we all have skeletons in our closets. They take on many forms—past wounds, previous mistakes, missed opportunities. These things are part of us. We may have let them go. We may have been healed from them. They may no longer weigh on us and hold us back, but they are still part of us in one way or another. They still shape how we see ourselves and the world around us.
I often know after reading the first chapter of a book whether or not I will connect with the main character. More often than not, I know after reading the first couple of pages. And in going back to examine the characters who have stuck with me and haunted my mind long after I put the book down, I have noticed that they are the characters who had secrets.
I read a recent example of this concept in Athol Dickson’s Winter Haven. Here are the main character’s thoughts eight pages into the book:
“I allowed myself to dream of Siggy. Knowing I was going to collect his body, it seemed safe enough to let my brother in again, or so I told myself. Of course I really knew there was no safety in my memories.”
Isn’t that a powerful line? Though it’s only a simple sentence, it reveals so much. It tells us that this woman has past wounds, and that they’re so painful she still feels them years later. This simple revelation made me want to keep reading. To get to know her. To learn what had hurt her so deeply. To discover what she’s still running from.
Another great example is found in Lisa McKay’s My Hands Came Away Red. The opening lines in this book gripped me and threw me straight into the character’s world.
“It only takes a day and a half for the dreams to find me again. I wake just before dawn sweating and shaking, the sheets all tangled around my legs. I can’t get back to sleep. If I close my eyes, I can see the flames and hear the voices.”
Right away I had to know what happened to her. I had to read her story.
What about you? Can you think of examples like this? Characters who revealed the smallest secret that hooked you in the beginning of the story? It’s a simple way to give your characters more depth and intrigue. Give them secrets and keep the reader guessing.
A lifelong storyteller, Sara Richardson is passionate about communicating reasons for hope. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, an Internet communications manager, and a whitewater rafting guide. In addition to writing fiction, Sara has published nonfiction articles in parenting and family magazines. As a member of MOPS International, Sara enjoys speaking to moms’ groups. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Visit her at www.momstories.org.