My job as a mystery writer may include making up ways to kill people (on paper), but I don’t have the nerves to be a criminal in real life. When I was growing up, some of us neighborhood kids would walk down to the corner convenience store whenever we could save up a little cash or beg money from our parents for candy or slushy drinks. One girl in the group would always buy a candy bar—and shoplift an extra one, just for fun. She made me so nervous I was always certain we were going to get arrested. I felt guilty just knowing about her thieving, and tried to convince her to stop. If the cops ever had taken us in, I would have given her up like a bad habit.
In developing a character for a book or series, many authors, me included, write detailed profiles of the characters and their back stories. Much of this stuff I don’t plan to appear in the books; it just helps me write a richer character.
For instance, in my Liv & Di in Dixie series, the profile included the fact that Liv had stolen a T-shirt from a fellow camper at church camp in the sixth grade and still felt guilty about it. I never really expected that to come up, but it was included in one of the books. When the sheriff was grilling Liv about her snooping around in a murder investigation, she started out only telling him part of the story. But, in the end she caved under the pressure and ended up confessing everything — including how she pilfered Carol Gomper’s T-shirt at church camp. This tidbit fit perfectly into the scene, but I’m not sure it would’ve ended up in the book if it had not already been part of Liv’s created back story. For the record, I went to church camp but did not steal my bunk mate’s T-shirt. (I might have coveted it a tiny bit.)
While I didn’t intend for this “secret” of Liv’s to slip out, the protagonist in my upcoming Café Cinema series has some back story that is only alluded to in the first book, as well as some “secrets” and family history she’s trying to unravel. In this case, these things are definitely intended to “slip” out or come to light at some point. This is a different scenario than making use of Liv’s random thievery from her profile. The trick here is to make sure the “secrets” come out a little at a time and, more importantly, at the precisely the right moment. (Hopefully, I got it right in the first book, which has already been turned in to the publisher!)
What about you, do you have trouble keeping a secret?
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