Monday, June 1, 2009

The Secret-Sharer

secret desire--a dream, plan, or agenda held in absolute confidence by a character; a wished-for outcome with a romantic, career-based, or otherwise political outcome nourished by an individual in a story.

When pushed to extremes, many individuals will readily confess to being indifferent lovers or bad drivers; they will do so well before admitting their secret desire to anyone, making a strong argument that true power over an individual is not related to sexual prowess or financial position but rather to knowledge of another's secret desire. This secret desire may very well be sexual or financial in nature. It may also be the ability to perform well at a sport or in a particular art. The secret here is, in fact the secret. Most individuals who wish to act or dance or sculpt or play the B-flat Selmer saxophone are upfront and open about their wishes, but a person who indulges in secret the desire to sing or dance or write or sculpt is setting forth at the very limit of vulnerability. That person would be mortified to have his agenda known, preferring to continue the fantasy life or the secret desire or preferring the risk of leading a double life in which working toward that secret desire had provided enough inner security for the dreamer to go public.

The argument is provocative: Every character has in addition to stated goals and agendas a secret desire. Let us, through the magic of projection (which is what many secret desires are in the first place, suppose a number of men whose secret desire it was to have a sexual relationship with a current public figure female entertainer, an equal number of women similarly attracted to the notion of a sexual relationship with a current public figure male entertainer. So far, nothing out of the ordinary, so let's inject the beginnings of combustion positing a male character who is having a sexual relationship with a current public figure female entertainer. He is in effect experiencing the wildest dreams and fantasies of a number of other males. Now we have to wonder who this man has a fantasy desire with or, alternately, what his secret desire is. The same turnabout works with a woman who is in a sexual relationship with a much desired male figure.

The intriguing question arises, What would your characters do if someone discovered the very secret desire held by another person? To add a note of irony and complication into the equation, suppose Character A's security has been breeched; someone now knows her tightly held secret desire. Character A is aware of this breech. What does she do to protect herself? And then there is this related scenario: Character A's security has been hacked. Someone knows her secret. But the someone who knows doesn't care, isn't the slightest bit impressed. What does Character A do and how does she do it, the goal being to keep the progression of events an arguable dramatic format--a story?

Luis Alberto Urrea's 2009 novel, Into the Beautiful North, posits Nayeli,a nineteen-year-old who works at a taco shop in a remote Mexican village, who dreams of her father, who has gone northward, to Los Yunites, you know, the United States, there to make a better living and a better life. But her dreams are not deep enough or secret enough to be the yeast for a novel. Accordingly, into this calculus, Urrea adds a realization that most of the men in this small village have gone northward, and now a group of drug dealers have noticed the lack of men, moving now to take over the village. We're almost there because, one night, when Nayeli is at el cine, watching a subtitled re-run of El Magnifico Siete, The Magnificent Seven, her secret desire metastasizes to the point where she must do something about it. Nayeli's secret desire is to sneak into Los Yunites, find her father and six other Mexican males whom she will entice to return to Mexico, where they will, ala El Magnifico Siete, take on the nasty drug dealers.

Having one's secret desire made public is one way to get a story going, possibly, as in Joe Orton's play, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, lead to the ending. Even fear of discovery will prompt behavior. You don't have to let the cat out of the bag or the genie out of the bottle, but the array of combustive and original story vectors await writers who know this buried secret of all their characters. Doesn't hurt if they know where to dig.

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