Character Development: Dirty Little Secrets


June 13, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue


I stumbled across this image on Taking Back Earth yesterday and it struck me as an interesting statement in regards to character development in writing.

What are our characters hiding?

Everyone has secrets or aspects of themselves that they try to hide from those around them. The bigger the secret, the more pains a character will take to keep it secret. This can have a big impact on how your character behaves in any given situation and how they relate to people.

I have been reading Stacia Kane‘s Chess Putnam series, an Urban Fantasy series which features a protagonist who is a drug addict. Actually that might be understating things, she’s a straight up junkie. I think Chess is a prime example of someone with something to hide and how it affects all her behavior, interactions, and decisions. She’s constantly worried about her employers discovering her addiction and firing her, she lives alone so she can get high without being seen, she gets blackmailed into doing things she doesn’t want to do, her day is scheduled around her next fix, she takes drugs to keep going when the brown stuff hits the spinny thing, etc., etc., and so on. It’s actually a really fascinating series and I couldn’t help but root for Chess in spite of her humongous flaws. But my larger point here is that her dirty little secret quite literally shapes her entire existence.

While Chess is an extreme example of a character with a secret, every character we create has secrets that impact how they behave. Secrets don’t have to be big, it could be something as simple as hiding a vulnerability or insecurity.

Think about how people behave when their secrets are threatened.


We might hide an insecurity of our looks by wearing designer clothes, gallons of makeup, plastic surgery, or expensive haircuts. We might hide our true feelings about someone for fear they won’t reciprocate. We might be embarrassed of a job that lacks prestige and inflate our own importance in the company of others. These things are seemingly small, but have real impact on how characters (and real people) interact with the world.

In fiction, these dirty little secrets can be great sources of conflict and tension while adding depth and dimension to our characters.

How do you use your characters’ dirty little secrets?

14 thoughts on “Character Development: Dirty Little Secrets

  1. PeachEater says:

    I’m working on a book(?) right now in which the secrets kept by each character, over generations, form the larger plot. I love discovering the efforts each of my characters goes to to keep their secrets safe.

  2. dianabaylie says:

    Reblogged this on Diana Baylie and commented:
    Really good blog post!

  3. MishaBurnett says:

    I think “secret” may be too strong for most of my character’s backstories, but there are things that I know about my characters that they wouldn’t want to be common knowledge.

    In my experience, the things that people want to keep hidden are often not criminal, or immoral, or even things that other people would care that much about, they tend to be very ordinary.

    For example, one of my characters is very openly homosexual, but before he came out he was married for twenty years and has two grown daughters. He’s not ashamed of his family, and doesn’t go to extreme lengths to keep the part of his life a secret, but it doesn’t fit how he self-identifies now and he simply never mentions them.

    • Ooh, fun song! And yes, that’s a good distinction and you indirectly reminded me of something I forgot to include in the post. Namely that sometimes the people closest to us know our secrets and pretend not to for our sake. Or that we may have secrets even from ourselves (hello, denial) and friends may enable our denial or try to push us out of it.

    • I LOVE this song. I also love the video clip. I think this is an interesting “problem.” I just read Neil Gaiman’s short story in his collection of short stories titled “Stories,” in which he reveals that the protagonist has three secrets. The protagonist says that he has never told one or two of his secrets to any man (I don’t remember exactly). Anyway, that surely kept me reading, aside from the interesting profile of the protagonist himself: a dwarf with a dark past and a dark mission he left his wife to pursue. The secrets, which Gaiman unveils one by one, really contribute to the story. I won’t say too much because I might spoil it for you. I definitely recommend it.

  4. fanTAStic post! character secrets are so much fun to work with, develop, and consider. In some ways, the secrets we keep, and how we keep them, determine who we are and how we present ourselves.

  5. KD Did It says:

    Fabulous! I’ve added it to my Hodgepodge for mid-June—look for it on Monday, the 17th. A great angle in creating characters with more depth!

  6. L. Marie says:

    Gosh, Kira. You’ve given me so much to think about. I think this is a real weakness in my WiP. I haven’t been pushing him enough about his secret. But now that I’ve read this post, I have a handle on why he acts the way he does–how keep this secret has shaped his character.

  7. Rika Ashton says:

    The whole plot of the novel I am curently working on, Dagger of the Sun, is based on secrets. Friends keeping secrets from friends, gods from mortals and parents from children. But secrets have a way of coming out — and that’s when things get interesting.

  8. […] Lyn Blue has a great post on those secrets we all hide, and how those secrets may shape our characters’ […]

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