Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You've Got a What?

secrets--information held by characters about themselves or other characters; confidences shared between two or more individuals; closely held details of family or organizational behavior.

So far as dramatic writing is concerned, the more embarrassment or humiliation a revealed secret can inflict, the better. The actual details of the secret, while potentially tantalizing, are not nearly so potent as the feelings of the ones for whom the secret must remain closely held.

As all humans do, all characters have secrets, data, awareness, lusts, memories of past behavior, hidden agendas. It is not necessary for the secret of every character to be revealed, but it is an enormous help to the writer to know what secret lies dormant within the front-rank characters. The revelation of a character's profound secret may be as dramatic and revealing in its mildness as in its extreme reach.

The moment Character A confides a secret to Character B, Character A is in effect writing Character B a blank check written on the bank of power. There are characters who make a point of confessing secrets, sometimes the same secret, to a number of recipients; it is up to the writer to unravel this particular calculus, make something intelligible, dramatic, perhaps even poignant from it. Characters who inflate the secrets they plan to reveal in confidence may be seen as wanting to achieve some degree of status not readily associated with them. Characters, particularly benign, mild ones who begin by apologizing for the mildness of their secrets convince us that they are covering some secret too shocking to reveal. The greatest irony of all is the character who affects complete transparency.

"I will tell you something I have never told another living person," a character says, and the reader leans forward to listen to it, realizing too late how effective that confession is in eliciting the shifting of body weight to lean forward.

A splendid ratio of effectiveness may be had by the simple expedient of the writer comparing his or her own secrets with the revealed secrets of contemporary dramatic writing, and the triangulation against the characters produced by the writer.

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