Secrets and Why You Should Keep Them Until The Very End

Shhh…

She said. She took out a book, opened it up, and pinched a few pages in the middle.

See these pages, she said, these pages I keep hidden from my husband. 

The rest of these pages he knows, she said, but these pages of my life–

She pointed the pages in the book that she was holding in between her thumb and forefinger. Then, her bulging eyes fell on the entire classroom.

—I keep hidden from him. He doesn’t know this about me.

Always keep a little bit about yourself secret, she added. That’s what makes for a good marriage. You always want to keep a little mystery so that you always keep your spouse interested. So that, as life unfolds for the both of you…

She let the pages flutter through her fingers until they joined together and the book was shut closed.

you keep discovering more and more about each other, that you never knew.

She ended with a spirited, child-like giggle—the delicious laugh of a mad woman who just realized she’s sane. Then her face drooped once more, and she went back to her teacher’s desk and began to prepare for the day’s lesson.

My Spanish teacher in High School, Mrs. C, was a very quirky woman. I don’t remember much about her lessons other than those fleeting moments in which she completely abandoned her lesson plan and improvised. She would do and say the most random things, but, interestingly enough, it was in those quirky moments that she really got her students to listen and learn.

The above narrative was one of those fleeting, improvised lessons I still recall. A lesson that had nothing to do with Spanish, but that still stuck with me over the many years nonetheless.

Secrets and Why You Should Keep Them Until The Very End

In college, my writing mentor, Cherrie Moraga taught me another lesson about secrets and how they help tell a great story:  she said to make sure that my stories always have plenty of secrets—secrets that could be revealed gradually as the story went on.

At first, I was very resistant to this idea. It seemed very Soap-Opera-ish to withhold information and then reveal it later in a dramatic fashion. But the truth is, all the greatest stories have secrets that are later revealed in dramatic fashion. When done right, secrets can add so much depth and richness to any weak story that needs repair.

Humans love stories because stories have secrets—and humans love secrets.

Humans loves secrets because humans thrive on mystery. As much as we fear uncertainty and the unknown, it also excites us and exhilarates us to know that there’s still so much in the world that we don’t understand and don’t yet know. We are filled with wonder at the fact that there’s still so much out there left to explore, uncover, and reveal.

We also love to solve mysteries. We follow the signs and clues, looking for a way to utilize our advanced, analytical human minds to put all those signs and clues together–in order to figure out “who dunnit” before the detective in the story does.

As I write my novel, I’m planting so many secrets throughout its pages. Some secrets that’ll be revealed in the middle, some that’ll be revealed at the very end, and even some, still, that’ll never be revealed.

As my High School Spanish teacher, Mrs. C, once said:  you should always keep some secrets to yourself, so that you have something left to reveal. Something left to excite. Something left to thrill.

Then, slowly, when you’re ready, let go of a page of secrets. Then hold back again. Hold back until about halfway through your story. Then let go another page of secrets. Then hold back again, until about a two-thirds of the way through. Then let go another page of secrets. And then hold back again, until you’ve reached the very end. And then let go of most of the pages of secrets you’ve been holding onto thus far, and watch as people smile with delight at the new discovery.

That’s what a secret is. It’s essential to every great story. It’s the core of every life’s journey. It’s the thrill of what’s “hidden.” The unknowing of where you are going. It’s the putting together of all the clues, the solving of all the riddles, the deciphering of all the codes until the big puzzle is finally revealed. It’s the not finding out what’s behind the curtain, what’s inside that box, what’s inside her heart, what’s inside his mind, what horrifying thing is in their past that has made them the way they are today, until the very end, until you make that wonderful discovery that makes living all the more exciting.

much “shhhh…”

Ollin

What secrets can you hide? Please share you thoughts with us in the comments below!

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24 comments on “Secrets and Why You Should Keep Them Until The Very End

  1. Christina says:

    Great post Ollin:) I loved the way you started this post – I felt like your Spanish teacher was in the room with me as I read:)

    Nathan Bransford had a post about mystery and how to achieve it, if you’re interested:

    http://tinyurl.com/3d2h54z

  2. Howard Koor says:

    Good article. I would frame it more as an uncovering, a discovery process for the character and the reader who is watching his/her every move. The character is going to be “surprised” as well as they move thru the story although if the story is well done, it won’t be as much a surprise as a self revelation to the protagonist and the readers.

    Thank you.

  3. Saurav Modak says:

    Its the first time I am reading this blog, and I must say, I really enjoyed your writing. All the best

  4. karen lindsay says:

    I love you work,haven’t read much of it, but what I have is very very good.

  5. Jan Simson says:

    Awesome post! Well-written and insightful thoughts. Thanks for sharing! Cheers.

  6. What a great way to show how a “hook” works,Ollin. Your scene with your Spanish teacher really got my attention.I felt like I was right in that classroom and she was very much alive! Your story is an interesting way of framing the whole idea of keeping the reader intrigued and turning the pages. I never thought of developing the plot /character by keeping secrets but it all makes sense. Thanks for bringing your point home in a very interesting way. Now I’m really anxious to read your novel and learn about all those secrets🙂
    Kathy

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you Kathy. Yes, to make a character more rich it’s good to keep a little secret or two from the reader at first. Even if the character is you.😉

  7. That’s a great post!🙂 You have an awesome teacher😛
    It’s so true that the more mysterious is our story the more people want to read… Great tip!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing, Ollin. Great post =)

  9. Chris Rg says:

    Thanks Ollin,
    always love reading your bog, full of great tips to keep me inspired with and push on ahead with writing and creating.
    love it when i get a new email from you.
    chris x

  10. […] friday I spoke of the importance of secrets in storytelling. Today I’d like to continue discussing this topic by sharing this TED video […]

  11. Luke Raftl says:

    Very nice post, Ollin.🙂

    I always enjoy those books that withhold their secrets, even right to the very end, and allow the reader to take what they need from the pages without being hit over the head. They say that a writer puts him or herself into their work; it’s only natural that we hold a little something back for ourselves!

  12. Neeks says:

    That was a wonderful story, about the teacher. You made her come alive from the page, I could smell the chalk in the hallways. I need to weave more mystery into my work, and thanks for this,it reminds me to look yet again at my work with yet another fresh eye! Isn’t the web an awesome place of discovery.

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