Secrets in a Story Line

Pentagon

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So Character 1 is getting close to Character 2. Character 2 will eventually tell them some dark and mysterious secret-

Any guidance of how to avoid this coming across as 'too soon', 'too drawn out' or generally not badly?

I would like a combination of guilt, a deepening bond between character 1 and character 2, but also some persistent nagging from character 1, to all play a part.

Pentagon
 

Bashfull

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Some significant event? Alcohol? S3x? A tell-tale sign like a scar that brings up the issue?

People don’t just confide in others when they are close. Sometimes they do it in order to get close.
 

The Big Peat

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If I knew the answer to this, I'd be rich and famous.

Well. The answer on paper is "You've got from when the reader gets interested to when the reader gets bored". But that's pretty difficult to navigate.

Too soon is when you tell it before the reader gets interested. But I don't think you have to string it out much further than when the reader gets interested if you don't want to. There's a lot to be said for suspense but its not the be-all and end-all.

Too drawn out is when the reader gets bored and, generally, I think that happens a) When there's nothing happening in the plot and its obvious we're just waiting for this secret to be told b) When, while there's other stuff happening, we want to see the pay-off, but it keeps never happening because of contrived-feeling reasons.

I think this is also changed by how central revelation of the secret is to the plot. If telling the secret reveals the whole plot, I think readers are inclined to be patient as long as we're given good reasons for why the secret is not being told, and a good reason for why its finally told. If it isn't... I'd say taking no more than a third of the book to resolve it would be a good rule of thumb that I just made up.

I pretty much made all of this up in fact. It sounds right to me, but gods knows if it is. As someone whose writing trends more and more to mystery, this is more and more something I have to wrestle with, and I'm still not all that sure how to do so.
 

The Judge

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What relevance has this dark and mysterious secret?

If it's the springboard for the plot or the next sequence of events, then to my mind you ought to get it out quickly, otherwise you run the risk of dragging things out for no reason and annoying everyone.

If, on the other hand, it's merely a revelation about eg their joint parentage which has no effect save to create a closer bond between them, but it doesn't matter when that happens, my advice is to stop being the author and start being the characters -- when/how quickly would C2 want to reveal the secret? Personally, I'm a close-mouthed kind of person and people could know me for years without knowing certain things about me, but I've met work colleagues who have practically blabbed their whole life history within days of meeting me for the first time. Where on that spectrum is C2?

Nagging from one character is quickly going to get on my nerves, particularly if C1 is a woman because it's all too easy to fall into that cliche, so even though other readers are likely to be a lot more tolerant than I am, I'd suggest going easy on that aspect. Otherwise, just let it happen between the characters as feels right. If later you realise it's too drawn-out -- and I think that's more likely to be the case than it's given up too quickly from your comments -- you can always prune heavily in the editing phase.
 

Ihe

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As others have said, is the secret relevant to plot or to character development? Depending on which it focuses, there will be different timing to it, usually. Secondly, how big is this secret? Is it enough to change C1's opinons (and possibly the reader's) on C2, or big enough to maybe change even our perspective on the plot as a whole?

What I want to get at is: Does the secret make you re-evaluate all of C2's actions and plot involvement so far, significantly changing how the plot and C2 will be perceived moving forward? I ask because, usually, conventional story structure suggests these big perception-changing revelations be at the Midpoint of the story, so as to give you enough previous material to re-evaluate, while at the same time enough material going forward to explore the new circumstances. Too much of one over the other can be tiresome or loose impact. By the Midpoint the reader is emotionally invested enough for the revelation to mean something, so that's the ripest time to do it, conventionally. If you wait too long, the reader feels cheated, as important information that would colour the whole story differently is withheld (depending on the nature of the secret, you could use it as a twist, which lets you stretch it more). If you do it too soon, the reader won't care.

Then again, it depends on the nature of the secret and how significant it is to the characters' perceptions and storylines. If the secret is more on a personal note, mostly driving character development, then you should consider C2's character arc, as these arcs intersect and run in parallel to the plot, but not always at the same pace. What might be the right timing from a character development standpoint, might not be the same from a plot standpoint. An arc/subplot has its own structure within the main story framework. I can't say more without more information about the story.

But anyway, if all other considerations fail, just boil it down to: when can I squeeze the most conflict out of this revelation? Either to finish a segment of conflict in the story, or to start it, or to extend it, or to intensify it. You can almost never go wrong in this direction.
 

zmunkz

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I like Peat’s answer. Lay your intriuge and hits so the reader is interested. Once you have them hooked, the timing of the reveal depends on its payoff value and plot impact.

Then use beta readers to tune it all right later.
 

Pentagon

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Right

So I was deliberately ambiguous, but with answers above, I can give context.

Mary is young and in a junior job working with Bob. Both work for Charlie.

Charlie's role is a creative one, and Mary's role is a creative one. Bob's isn't.

Bob is kind to Mary, but it is not a mentorship relationship, as the friendship they strike up is one of the driving forces for Mary's development. Equally, Bob will look out for Mary, but doesn't confer advice- that role is taken by a different character.

Bob is much older and experienced, Mary is young and is her first real job out of school. There is a question, which is what happens to the people doing Mary's job before her. Bob knows that the graduates, once they burn out are 'frozen' in a deep sleep. This is not considered a punishment, but rather a faction which takes 'data protection' more seriously than people.

The result is that Charlie has burnt out, so delegates aspects of the creative parts to this new team. When the graduates burn out, they are frozen. Bob is not at risk of this, as he's not a creative post. Bob has the thankless job of freezing people and caretaking of the long corridor of people.

Bob knows that by doing so he is protecting Charlie, who he is undyingly loyal too, however he is guilty of what happens to the graduates. Accordingly, he leaves flowers and tends to the corridor. It is allegedly a non permanent arrangement, once they have been frozen for sufficiently long that what they knew, is no longer dangerous they can be woken up, but this is such an unfeasably long time, in practice this has never happened (yet.)

Accordingly, as Bob and Mary grow closer she will ask, what happened to previous staff and eventually he will reveal the umm arrangement.

---

The secret will change Mary and Bob's relationship, and the readers view on both characters. Mary's character arc is that of a graduate who is being taken out of a conventional world, not necessarily because of the job, but because of Bob's egging on- so this is significant to the character. However, it is not ultimately that significant to the overall plot.

I am wary of having Mary come across as nagging female trope, as highlighted above and to be fair there is more to her character than just that- which can be worked with.
 

Ihe

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I would disagree about it not being significant to the plot. Knowing this awful truth will not only change the way Mary interacts with Bob and Charlie, but the way she looks at the job, and will change the whole mood of the story, with more menacing undertones, hopefully giving Mary the motivation to become proactive/escape/change the status quo. From what you've said, I think this qualifies for the Midpoint of the story (and possibly a bit sooner than that), specially as Bob's and Mary's relationship sounds like it'd be A LOT more interesting and conflict-ridden after the reveal, as well as having higher stakes overall, IMO.
 

sknox

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There is a grand total of one good way to answer questions like this one. Write it, then get feedback (and realize it will work for at least one person and will not work for at least one person).

Questions like this one, and I'm not criticizing the OP, are like saying I have this idea for a song, do you think it will work? Or, do you think I should paint a portrait of a sad man? Will people like it? There's only one way to know.

To put it another way, there's pretty much no such thing as a bad idea. There's only bad execution of the idea. To speak to the specific question, how soon is too soon? When the reader tells you it is. In the writing of the thing, you'll get a notion of the timing--you must convince yourself first, before you can pull in the reader.

So, in a way, don't worry about it. Get the story on paper. Some questions will vanish, new ones will arise. And you might very well surprise yourself.
 

The Big Peat

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Wait, you've got a guy shoving people into a freezer to be woken up at some indefinite point, and that's *not* plot relevant?

What the hell is the plot?

Also, tread carefully, as if you don't resolve it, that does sound the like the sort of thing readers will feel cheated about. And if you do resolve it, how is it not relevant?
 

Ihe

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There is a grand total of one good way to answer questions like this one. Write it, then get feedback (and realize it will work for at least one person and will not work for at least one person).

Questions like this one, and I'm not criticizing the OP, are like saying I have this idea for a song, do you think it will work? Or, do you think I should paint a portrait of a sad man? Will people like it? There's only one way to know.

To put it another way, there's pretty much no such thing as a bad idea. There's only bad execution of the idea. To speak to the specific question, how soon is too soon? When the reader tells you it is. In the writing of the thing, you'll get a notion of the timing--you must convince yourself first, before you can pull in the reader.

So, in a way, don't worry about it. Get the story on paper. Some questions will vanish, new ones will arise. And you might very well surprise yourself.

Wait, I'm confused, aren't forums exactly for this sort of thing? :D You ask a vague-ish question, others attempt a semblance of an answer wrapped in an opinion, and then you draw your own conclusions (or don't).

And there are plenty of good answers! If they're right for the OP or not, that's a different issue :whistle:.
 

ralphkern

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Secrets and lies, especially from a POV character can be a real delicate balancing act - and even more so when you as an author want a POV character to keep a secret from the reader until the right time.

Some of my most significant POVs in The Locus are keeping things back from the reader. But it has to be done organically, without the reader thinking you are artificially witholding information.

This is where Betas really help. If they tell you it doesn't feel natural, listen to them.

If your readers can work out the secret a few pages before you reveal it... even better.
 

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