Monday, September 8, 2008


In the Writer's Digest book, Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman, Phyllis Whitney talks about pacing and suspense. (Anything attributed to Phyllis Whitney gets my attention.)

. . . give every character a secret. As a writer you need to know about the hidden goals, the past guilts of every character. Such secrets can be used to make your story people behave in mysterious and suspense-building ways. As we think about and develop these secrets, the characters become more real to us, as writers, and thus to our readers. Conflict is likely to grow out of these concealed matters, and of course, this is a main weapon in our suspense arsenal.

I'm an old snoop from way back. My desire to know usually outranks my desire for decorum. I want to know the secrets of all of my characters. Even the secrets they've forgotten about. I want to know what they've got locked away in a trunk somewhere.

Heck, I want to know your secrets. I consider this desire a result of being a student of the human condition. My husband considers it a sickness. I'm counting on more than one reader being similarly afflicted.

Secrets are tantalizing. They can drive characters to do amazing things. If those amazing things create conflict? Well, then . . .

Still reading Kill Me.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Peg, love this post. I'm with you about secrets--everyones! Our poor husbands. :)

    My husband has become quite good at quoting me:

    "There's a reason for everything."

    "It's always personal."

    It sounds so much better when I say it than when he shoots it back at me. LOL

  2. I'm enjoying your newsletter, Peg. Thank you. Do I want to know people's secrets? I think I can get at them 'uncannily'- defined by some as good guesses; and people tend to want to tell them. I find if I stand still long enough - at bus stops and other long queues, and have a listening ear, people are drawn to tell you things - more than they wished after he event, I would think! I've been know to stand at bus stops just for this purpose!

    It's good advice on characterisation , finding out your characters' secrets. Advice I'll save and savour.

    Ann Isik

  3. The trick is to come up with a juicy secret, don't you think?

    A boring secret, or one that's common, doesn't add much in the way of dimension or conflict.

    Thanks for your kind words.

    You guys are the greatest.