secrets and plotting


Written on Friday, December 26, 2008 by haleigh

Friday, December 26th, 2008

So as I'm plotting my next novel (how fun is that to say? I finally finished one!), I'm reading, reading, reading. And this week, I came across a book that has really made me think.

I liked it - I liked it a lot - until I got to the last chapter. All the way through the book, it was clear the heroine had a secret. A big one. Something that created huge amounts of guilt in the heroine. And that guilt permeated every inch of her life - how she formed relationships, why she never put down roots but instead moved from town to town, why she no longer spoke to her father, why she'd dedicated her life now to helping others.

In most cases, this works - it's the classic search for redemption. I used this myself - Cole's entire life is built on guilt over his father's death. It affects every decision he makes, how he treats the people around him.

The problem, though, is the secret. I'm realizing that it has to be the kind of secret that would make your average reader feel that same level of guilt. Or at least understand why the character feels that guilt. Cole didn't actually kill his father (obviously), but he was in charge of the security, and he made one poor decision, and his father died. Happens all the time in security, and maybe some people wouldn't feel guilty, but in theory, readers could understand why Cole did.

The point (I promise there is one), is that in this book I read, once the heroine's "big secret" was revealed, I didn't get it. I still don't. The big secret was that she had taken the SAT's for her not-so-bright but uber-rich cousin. In return, the cousin paid the heroine's tuition.

Okay, maybe I'm more of a dishonest person that I previously thought, but I still don't get it. Sure it was a dumb thing to do. It might even have been criminal of the cousin. And I understand feeling guilty enough that when the college offered her a distinguished alumni award she didn't accept it. I don't understand feeling so guilty you walk away from a man who loves you because you think you don't deserve him because of this terrible thing you did. I don't understand that when someone unknowingly calls you a "fake," you panic so badly about someone finding you out that you go on the run for weeks.

So I guess that's my "what I've learned this week" message. If you're going to build an entire character around one trait, like guilt, the readers have to feel it too. Or at least understand it. I mean no offense to this particular author, but as a reader, it really bothered me that this character how I "got" for the first 20 chapters, I suddenly didn't understand anymore. And it really makes me hope that in my case, readers feel, or at least empathize, with Cole's guilt (and if you're reading it, and you don't, let me know!!)

If you enjoyed this post Subscribe to our feed


  1. Marnee Jo |

    Ha! I found the comments.

    Hello dearie! I'm plotting too! Yay us!! You still up for Marnee/Hal Nano next month? Though I doubt I could do 50K words, I could probably manage 25K words?

    I completely agree about the secret. I haven't done a secret reveal that I know of, at least not a motivational secret on the part of my hero or heroine. I did the who dun it reveal at the end of HBG but I don't think that's the same.

    And I agree. I think Cole's guilt is a big one. An accident is a good way to make someone feel guilt, ya know?

    I've been thinking about a heroine who might have been in a car accident and lived while others died and her feelings of guilt make her act funny. I'm not going to write that now, but maybe next. WHo knows?

  2. haleigh |

    Hey Marn! I'm definitely still up for a Marnee/Hal nano! I'm making progress on the plotting (Kate and the plane crash), so I'll definitely be ready. I think 25k is an excellent goal.

    Ohh - survivor guilt! I like it a lot - definitely something every reader can empathize with. I think it's an excellent plan - leading to all sorts of good stuff.

  3. Jessica |

    Yay! I was wondering when you were going to post again. Great post, btw. So the author pretty much built up this huge expectation of something horrible and then didn't deliver.
    A good lesson. When something seems bad, make it really bad.
    I would feel super guilty about cheating, but not so much so that I ran away, etc. Cole's guilt is much more believable.

  4. haleigh |

    Exactly, Jessie! There was this expectation, and my imagination was coming up with all sorts of horrible things she might have done. So the revelation just made me want to throw down the book, after reading 200 pages. A very good lesson, indeed!

    I'm glad you find Cole's guilt believable! Hope you had a good holiday!


Post a Comment