Sunday, September 12, 2010

Secrets

Every character who sets foot in a story you concoct has at least one secret--or should.  And after revision, does.  It is easy for you to sound so certain about this requirement, this dictum.  You should know; you are no stranger to secrets.  You have some.  You know of some of them resident in others.  You undoubtedly manage a few from yourself, filtered and protected by ingenious strategies, dodges, and rationale.

A secret is occult information, opinions, and events kept out of general circulation; it could be an instrument of a conspiracy and that lovely word cabal, born of just such a conspiracy.  It could as well be some fact or ritual which is revealed only to the initiate.

In its devious way, a secret is a burden, particularly if the bearer of it is fearful it could become public knowledge.  In fiction as well as in real life, individuals have been killed because of the fear that they knew and were prone to reveal a particular secret.  More commonly--and less dangerous--a secret is a burden to the extent of the bearer having to guard against revealing it, wondering at times if perhaps he has indeed let it slip out before the wrong audience.

Secrets frequently involve sexual information, whether relating to the bearer's awareness of his or her unconventional sexual identity or of the more common secret lust for another individual, this latter sometimes referred to as "a sneaker."  They may just as well involve secret or hidden agendas and in the area of social politics--as opposed to institutional politics--they may be the festering secret of one individual's distaste, even loathing for an individual it would not be tactful to go public with.

Like so many things of an idiosyncratic nature, secrets do not take well to being quantified, at least not on any convenient scale such as doctors or nurses making hospital rounds attempt to make when asking patients to locate on a scale of one to ten how much or how little pain they might be.  Your secret, the thing you would feel some degree of embarrassment or even humiliation experiencing might seem of no account or matter at all to someone else.  False tooth?  Big deal.  Have two myself.  Surgery to correct the bulbous nature of the nose you were born with?  Hey, no problemo--had my own honker worked on as well.

To the bearer of the secret, the risk of exposure could well go off the chart, otherwise the secret would presumably become public long ago.

Some secrets, as in open secrets, may involve clandestine relationships, sexual and otherwise and indeed, at the onset of Alcoholics Anonymous, the name itself was a code for implied secrecy because of the belief that a recovering alcoholic might be at some public risk were his or her secret to be universally known.

You once heard the playwright Neil Simon remark that the most intriguing dramatic opening he could imagine would be a character telling another character "This is something I have never told another person."

An imagination game you much enjoy is casting about in a group of individuals where you are trapped in a waiting situation, focusing on persons and imagining secrets for them.  Your own belief holds that such a playful exercise would reveal more about you than the cast of strangers about you, but even so, considering the individual characters you create for your stories are more stranger to you than intimate at first, they will be as likely to reveal their secrets to you as any seat mate in train or plan, whom you're not likely ever to see again.  They will want something from you in return. as all characters want from their creators.  They will want patience, understanding, empathy.  Some of them--you can't always tell which--will so wish to please you that they might tell you things they think you wish to hear.  They will lie and you might well take them at their word, only to discover, to your immense relief, that they are human, after all.

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