Secrets and back story

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.

source: pixabay

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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18 thoughts on “Secrets and back story

  1. Congrats on finishing the first book in your new series, Vickie! And I love how Liv’s camp secret slipped out. I would be a terrible criminal too. By chapter two I would have already confessed!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I’ve always said if I were to commit a crime, I should drive directly to the police station and turn myself in. Not only can I not keep a secret like that, but I know I would have accidentally dropped a major clue at the crime scene so they’d know it was me right away anyway.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I’m not only terrible at keeping secrets, I think I could confess to a crime I didn’t commit just to be agreeable! I can imagine an interrogation in which the police accuse me of offing the neighbor over a disagreement about key lime pie. I’m pretty sure I’d nod along and say, “Yes, I see where you’re going with that.” If you see me on Dateline, that’ll be why!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I definitely don’t like keeping secrets – although I can if it would spoil something, like say a surprise gift.

    I had two of those “backstory bits” make it into ROOT OF ALL EVIL. They weren’t exactly secrets, more things I knew that could explain my characters. But as the story unfolded, both made sense to include.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Your secrets are safe with ME! Unless I think that keeping the secret could eventually cause harm for you. For example, when one of my young sisters was in high school, she was the ongoing victim of a bully. She told me not to tell our parents. Her own efforts at handling the situation were unsuccessful, and I was worried about her, so I told them. They were properly horrified, and had her transfer to a different school. I would do it again.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Gosh, I dunno. I’m pretty good at keeping “big” secrets, but I really have to work at keeping smaller ones sometimes (my own, anyway). My mom used to make up stories on the spot in casual conversation, most of which caused my jaw to drop. (Some of them I even came to believe, well into adulthood, and Mom seemed to also.) I try to keep little white lies for my books. If my mom had been a writer, she might have had a few whopping bestsellers.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Me, weighing in super late because we just got back from an overnight vacay. I split down the middle re: secrets. I’m very good at keeping personal ones, and terrible at keeping gossipy ones. So now you know what to tell me – and NOT tell me!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. So interesting! That is hilarious, the confessing of the t-shirt.

    I am good at keeping other people’s secrets.

    My own secrets, hmmm…maybe not so much because it’s nice to hear a trusted confident say, “That’s not as big of a deal as you think it is.”

    Liked by 1 person

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