Monday, November 30, 2009

I've Got a Secret

The exercise I posted was to consider a secret a character in one of our WIPs might be keeping. How does this secret affect him/her? What does the character think will happen if others discover his/her secret? What’s at stake for the character?

In my WIP “Twice in a Lifetime”, my time-travel romance set in England in World War 2, Claire has a secret. However, since the story is told entirely in the POV of the hero, Frank Brennan, the reader is not privy to this secret until near the end of the story when it is finally revealed. But even though Frank doesn’t know what the secret is, he knows there is something Claire is keeping from him. Claire’s secret has affected Frank for sixty years, and when he goes back in time to 1944 he is determined to discover what she’s been hiding. I’ll let Frank tell you about it in his own words:

I feel like there is some kind of invisible hand on Claire’s shoulder, pulling her back the minute we get too close. There are moments when we’re so close, our thoughts so in sync, that I’m sure we’ll be together like this for the rest of our lives. And then she suddenly shuts down, pulls away, closes herself off from me, leaving me to wonder what I’ve done to upset her. But when I ask, she denies that anything is wrong. Does she think I’m stupid, that I don’t have eyes in my head? I can see the faraway look on her face, the fear in her eyes. What secret is she keeping from me?

I imagine all kinds of things. She’s secretly working as a spy for the British government. Or maybe her fighter pilot brother is the spy, flying secret missions over Europe. Or perhaps her father is a Nazi sympathizer and she’s protecting him.

All these scenarios are crazy and I know they can’t be true. But at least they keep me from thinking about my biggest fear. She’s in love with someone else.

I see the way Charles Henderson looks at her. His feelings for her are plain for anyone to see. When I drummed up the courage to ask her outright if she was in love with Henderson, she denied it. She said she cared for him deeply since they’ve known each other from childhood. He was one of her oldest and dearest friends, she said. But she claimed she wasn’t in love with him. She claims she’s in love with me.

I want to believe her, I really do. But I keep remembering my first visit to 1944. I keep seeing Claire in Charles’ arms, passionately kissing him. How can I believe she loves me when I have that picture in my head constantly taunting me? Why would she insist she loves me if she is tied to Henderson? Why can’t she just tell me the truth?

If she would tell me honestly that she’s in love with Henderson and we have no future together, it would hurt tremendously but at least I’d have the truth and be able to get on with my life. For sixty wasted years I’ve wallowed in bitterness and anger over her betrayal. She begged me to trust her, not to believe what I saw with my eyes but to listen to what I felt in my heart. But I just couldn’t. Was I wrong? Should I have believed her?

Now I’m back in 1944 and I’m determined to know the truth. What is Claire’s secret?

Secrets affect the ones keeping the secret and everyone around them. Not knowing the secret is sometimes worse than discovering the truth because the possibilities we make up in our heads are often worse the real thing. And, like Frank, we never have any real closure. He spends the rest of his adult life bitter over Claire’s betrayal. Claire’s secret affects all his relationships for the rest of his life. Now he’s got a second chance at love and he needs to decide whether to believe in Claire and her love, or to find out once and for all what her secret is.

So, do your characters have a secret that is hurting them and the people around them? One thing I’m struggling with is leaving hints about the secret without totally revealing it. I want readers to say “I didn’t see that coming, but looking back, it all makes sense.” If you don’t reveal a secret and want to keep it under wraps for a good part of the story, how do you maintain that balance between telling too much and telling too little?

In other news, I begin my virtual blog tour today. I will be at Emma Lai’s blog so please pop by and say hello. To entice you, I have not one, but two contests running at my website. Go to for details and entry requirements. You’ll also see my blog tour destinations. I hope you’ll follow along.


Janet said...

Hey -great bit, I was totally enthralled.

Now, I know what hey say about prologues, but this would be very good as a prologue. It intrigues, it make the reader ask questions, it puts the reader right in Frank's shoes - and they'll discover the secret with Frank, and it's the perfect set up. Either that, or use this for your query/blurb. I love the set up.

And I didn't know you were writing this entirely in Frank's POV. I think you did very well to get in his head for this snippet - and very much like a man. Will Angelica (your angel) have a POV as well?

And I think you'll do very well leading us through the book, dropping clues, and then uncovering the secret. Look at this snippet - not once did you tell the secret. Which makes me mad, Jana, because the whole point of this exercise was to tell the secret! Kidding - well done.

Just keeping it in Frank's POV will be a great device for uncovering clues to Claire's secret. He doesn't know, so as he's searching and finding information, the reader will also be discovering hits to Claire's secret.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I hadn't thought about this being part of a prologue, but I'll consider it. I don't have a prologue at this point.

Writing in one character's POV is kind of departure for me, especially writing exclusively in the male POV. But it didn't seem work if I also used Claire's POV, at least so far. And no, I don't use Angelica's POV. As I get further into the story that may change. I can't tell yet.

I can't tell the secret Janet. That's the whole point of the secret!


Karyn Good said...

Hey, Jana. Really enjoyed the peak into Frank's head, which also gave us a sense of Claire, too.

I love the idea of this story. Time-travel and secrets, what's not to love? And I'm really hooked by the idea of it being Claire's secret but Frank's POV.

Secrets have very deep ripple effects. They also create great suspense and conflict. Will the secret be less then he imagined or worse. Good luck with your hint weaving!

Helena said...

I loved the idea of this book right from the first time you mentioned it, and from what I see, it's going to be terrific.

Doing the male POV exclusively is daring and brave -- good for you to try it. The excerpt makes it seem like a good choice. Also because the hero is the one time-travelling and he returns to an era when soldiers were front and centre. Have I told you before that this is a period I would like to write about, too? (First, I have to get the fifties off my chest!)

Also because of the POV, I don't think you have to worry about revealing information too soon, because you will, as Janet said, be working through Frank. The reader won't discover anything that Frank doesn't know.

Incidentally, secrets are key to the stories in both of my current wips. I agree that they do pose challenges to get the timing right.

Hey, has the muse kicked in yet? You've got a good stretch ahead before you take your "Christmas break from writing."

Mary Ricksen said...

Your muse will take over and find the answers you need to decide which way to go.
But now I wanna know.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
I hope the idea of Claire having a secret but the story being in Frank's POV will have the effect of hooking other readers like you. I can tell you that Claire's secret is very different from what he expected or imagined. And learning about her secret helps Frank to work through secrets and traumas in his own family.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Having one POV character is going to be very challenging, that's for sure. I didn't know you were interested in the WW2 era. It really is a fascinating time with so many interesting stories. As soon as you're finished with the fifties, you can start concentrating on the forties!

I hope you're right about revealing the secret. Since the story is in Frank's POV, he can't reveal more than he knows. What I'd like to do is have Frank see things that he doesn't understand, but they will serve as clues for the reader. Later the clues will hopefully make sense for the reader.

Like Karyn said secrets can add suspense and uncertainty. And they're a lot of fun to write. Good luck with your stories.


Emma Lai said...

Very intriguing, Jana. Personally, I like to read a story from the hero's perspective every now and then.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary,
I hope my muse takes over soon. At the moment she's MIA. When she gets back from holidays, hopefully soon, maybe she'll show me the way.

Sorry, Mary. Can't tell you the secret. You'll just have to wait to read the book!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Emma,
Like I said, having one POV, especially one male POV, is a departure for me. I'll let you know how it all turns out and whether I'd ever attempt this kind of POV again.


Silver James said...

Oh, Jana! I love this snippet AND the exercise. Secrets can be so delightful. I have a couple of books where secrets play a part. In FAERIE FIRE, the hero, heroine, and several secondary all have secrets that are revealed during the course of the book. In SHADOW DANCE, the heroine habors a secret the hero discovers and then realizes he can't tell her he knows. Her brother also has a secret that plays a huge role in the plot. And more power to you for the single POV!

P.L. Parker said...

I agree with Janet. Good lead in.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Silver,
Thanks for the good words. I gotta be honest and say that this isn't actually a snippet from my WIP. I created it just for this exercise. I wanted to explore Frank's feelings about Claire's secret so I set it up as if he's talking to a friend or a therapist.

Secrets are great, aren't they? They bring lots of conflict, both inner and external, along with tension and intrigue. It sounds like you've used secrets in your books to good effect.

As far the single POV goes, I'll reserve judgement until Twice in a Lifetime is done!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Patsy,
Thanks for coming by.

I'll seriously consider incorporating this piece into my WIP. Thanks for the suggestion.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Oh, I like it, Jana. And I like that it's in his POV.

I have personal experience with the power of secrets from an experience in my own family where my parents and us older children kept a secret about us and yet my younger brother thought it was about him because we'd clam up whenever he came around. This happened over a period of years until finally my younger brother almost had a breakdown and the truth came out. My parents were astounded that he'd thought what he did but really, it was quite plausible when you think about it.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the snippet.

Secrets hurt the people keeping them and everyone around them. Your brother found that out the hard way. I want Claire's secret to have that kind of affect on Frank.