Secrets. The topic could swell to book-size. In truth, they contribute to the tension in many novels, sometimes ruling them. Secrets are a powerful force, for better or worse, but not all of them are created equal.
Some secrets fade away, while others have huge implications. Think of every scandal that’s come to light. They can mean life and death for someone if the wrong people uncover the secret. Some secrets outlive their host. Some are cloaked in silence, others wrapped in lies.
You get the idea.
From a writer’s perspective, they’re gold, but only if handled correctly. I’ve read big stories built on underwhelming secrets. It’s a foundation that doesn’t hold up well.
Secrets, they’re a staple of my fiction.
In Book1, a huge secret surfaces that different groups know, but my protagonist doesn’t. In Book2, a search for what’s hidden reveals unexpected secrets. In Book3, one character seeks to uncover a secret while another protects her own. In Book4, my protagonist is handed a secret she doesn’t want, but can’t escape.
At present, I’m finishing Book5’s continuity edit. Torment Surfacing was a major shift because what the book is about—is secrets. Much of the story follows a handful of characters rafting a long, slow river through hostile territory in an effort to return to Carrdia. Each carries a secret or secrets that are pulling them apart internally and as a group.
I wrote the story in 2017, my first story drafted as my mind was clearing after having a pulmonologist end my struggles with oxygen deprivation. The roots of the story, though, are quite old. I was two years-old.
All the while I was growing up I knew there were inconsistencies in the story my mother told about what happened when she and my father divorced. A secret. One she kept close. One no one else would discuss (until after they were both deceased, that is).
Meanwhile, my INFJ mind kept storing away the inconsistencies, the tales that didn’t quite fit, the actions that contradicted the circumstances. There were also her two go-to explanations. Told in a blunt tone, they never changed—as if they were well rehearsed.
In 2001, while visiting, we were looking at family photographs, some over a century-old. I’d ask questions. She’d tell me what she knew. For whatever reason, I asked the standard question concerning the stipulations in her divorce decree. As always, she stated standard answer number one.
It wasn’t the standard moment.
I’d returned to writing the year before and for the first time sensed the incongruity of her words in a new light.
I asked my standard follow-up question again and she responded with standard response number two. In that instant, I saw in my mind how it was impossible for the two statements to fit and pointed out the contradiction.
Her response was outrage. In that instant, she knew I knew, but refused to discuss the topic further.
It was the last time I saw her. Six months later, she moved farther away. Eighteen months later she died unexpectedly. In-between, we talked on the phone a few times, the topic remaining taboo.
After her death, and armed with the right questions for the first time in my life, I talked with aunts on both sides of the family. Each had a piece of the truth for me to assemble.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’d rather have been ignorant.
The implications for me were not only realizing my standing in the family was a lie, but that our relationship was a lie. The entirety of it, in the end, was a weight that was difficult to manage. No, I’m not adopted. In retrospect, I’d have rather that was the truth.
Rather than the end, that event became one in many as my life came apart. A seven-year illness followed. Meanwhile, I was facing my own demons and how they were killing me. In turn, that self-examination opened the door to more honest writing and my creativity exploded.
Now, I am glad I know what I know, about the past, about me. With each book written it’s enabled me to go deeper and deeper, to no longer fear what I’ll find. All that my imagination can conjure is nothing compared to what’s inside, but that’s admittedly a difficult place for most to go.
Honest fiction writing doesn’t look like this post. It isn’t a confessional. Yet, it’s unmistakable. That’s because honest writing isn’t about what you’re writing, but the voice you’re using to write it. You can’t fake your own voice. You’re either using it or you aren’t.