Characterization: Ramp It Up with Secrets

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You know the basics of creating a solid character. Your good guy can’t be 100% good. Your bad guy can’t be irredeemably awful. Your character needs to grow and change. You know these things.

But something just isn’t working. Your character feels flat. What more can you do?

Find your characters secretes. And don’t quit looking when you find the first one. Your character should have at least two.

When I suggest that you give your character a secret, you probably think about what your character is hiding from the other characters. After all, everyone has something they don’t want other people to know about. And it can be so many different things.

Take a close look at your character. Maybe she is a top-notch student who prides herself on her grades. What is she accidentally saw her desk mate’s answer on a test question . . . and realized it was correct and then ended up changing her own. Your antagonist may look like a complete goth but read poetry. Your oh so fashionable teen may be colorblind and achieves the perfect look through mannequin shopping.

Once your character has one secret, think some more. What are the secrets that your characters hides even from themselves?

Your top-notch student is actually really struggling trig. She’s always helped her desk mate but now her desk mate is paying her back by helping her. And she doesn’t see it. Or she might not want to recognize the fact that the ring that steals answers for exams is led by her best friend. Maybe your character doesn’t realize that his girlfriend is drinking or that her boyfriend is abusing the diet his wrestling coach has given him.

All people have secrets. Some of them we hide from other people. Some we keep from ourselves. Your characters need to be just as complex to keep them interesting and believable.