When crafting multi-dimensional characters, it’s temping to think that if you know every detail of your character’s backstory, your work is complete. However, the relationship between that backstory, their behavior, and how much of that history they reveal to others is just as crucial to creating a fascinating, authentic-feeling character.
This is where your character’s secret comes in. Depending on the type of book you’re writing, it can be a big secret (“Luke, I am your father”) or it can be a little secret (“my parents never wanted to have children”), but it must affect how the character thinks of herself and how she relates to others. You’ll likely choose to drop hints leading up to the big reveal, but that secret will be a crucial component of your dark moment and/or story climax. It should be significant enough that your readers think “Ah, now I understand this character” and well-supported enough that they can backtrack and put together the clues in their mind.
It is, of course, possible to write a compelling character and page-turning story without a big secret–The Martian comes to mind–but if you find yourself lacking interpersonal conflict or support for a character’s action, the big secret is the first place you should look.
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