Monday, November 1, 2010

Secrets under my clothes & in my stories

On Friday I had an IMPORTANT MEETING.

The kind where IMPORTANT PEOPLE discuss IMPORTANT THINGS over IMPORTANT FOOD.

Before I took this new job, I worked from home for three years. Most of my meetings happened via teleconference, which meant I could dress in a tube top and diaper and no one would know.

I don’t have that luxury with the new job, so I’ve been adding to my wardrobe. When I got dressed for Friday’s IMPORTANT MEETING, I suited up in my new IMPORTANT SKIRT.

Then I discovered a frayed spot. Nothing noticeable, but something that would worsen with a few washings. I knew I needed to return the skirt, but I was already dressed and really wanted to wear it.

I decided to tuck the price tag under the waistband.

Then I pictured the inevitable moment in the IMPORTANT MEETING when the tag slipped out and everyone turned to stare.

Feeling clever, I safety-pinned the tag inside my waistband.

Then the tag began to itch. Scratching yourself is not a nice way to make a good impression in an IMPORTANT MEETING, so I further demonstrated my ingenuity by safety-pinning some folded squares of toilet paper over the tag.

By the time the IMPORTANT MEETING rolled around, I marched in with my head held high and my toilet paper covered price tag safety-pinned at my hip.

No one ever knew.

But there was something about that ridiculous little secret that made me feel kind of clever. Like I was getting away with something. True, it wasn’t very classy, but it made me smile.

It reminded me of a question we pose to guest blogging authors at The Debutante Ball:

Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel – something that’s not even in your book.

I was delighted when my idol, Jennifer Crusie picked that question from a list of about 20, and gave the following response:

Andie knew the mix tape was under the front seat of her car, she just couldn’t bring herself to throw it away.

Even if you’ve never read Crusie’s MAYBE THIS TIME to understand the context, I still think it’s noteworthy. Here’s this secret little tidbit Crusie chose to hold back about her character. Something small – but still meaningful – that only she knew.

I’ve done it myself from time to time. When I’m trying to get to know a character better, I’ll brainstorm things that help me understand what she's like. These aren’t details meant for the stories. They’re only meant for me, to help shape my understanding of the characters.

Reese from LET IT BREATHE wasn’t really upset when Clay ruined her wedding cake.

Violet from BELIEVE IT OR NOT has a crystal pendant she wears tucked under her shirt when she feels homesick.


Juli from MAKING WAVES thought she’d marry her last boyfriend, and thinks it’s her fault it didn’t happen.


None of those things are in the books, and you probably wouldn’t guess them from reading. But those details were there in the back of my mind, helping shape the characters as I wrote.

Do your characters have little secrets? Things you won’t include in the book, but that help you clarify what makes them tick?

Please share.

And while we’re sharing, I should tell you I’m thinking of wearing the diaper and tube top to my next IMPORTANT MEETING. I think it’ll give me an edge.

18 comments :

Claire Dawn said...

My MC's best friend is a virgin, but she purposely lets everyone think she's a skank.

I'm still writing the book, so I don't know if that will make it in or not.

Pk Hrezo said...

A great point. One of those things that brings the chracter to life in our heads... like knowing their deepest fears even tho you may never write about it in the story.

twinklebelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
twinklebelle said...

When I was in my first "professional" role and before I discovered the pizzazz I now carry with me to all corporate meetings (such as parent teacher interviews at the local kindergarten and Wednesday morning mothers group) I would often dress for VERY IMPORTANT MEETINGS with VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE with my own little secret. Underneath my suit pants I would wear fishnets stockings. Bright orange fishnet stockings. This never failed to help me overcome any insecurities and doubts about my self worth, and it always helped me to smile the whole way through even the toughest of negotiations

Sarah W said...

Joey can't eat shellfish or pork, not even pepperoni.

His grandma kept kosher, and even though all the restrictions--and having to wash two separate sets of dishes every stinkin' night--drove him nuts as a kid, he still can't bring himself to try bacon or pork sausage. Even in prison, where there wasn't much choice.

Linda G. said...

What a great question! Yes, my MC has a secret, but I can't say what it is because it might come out in the sequel. ;)

Danica Avet said...

The character of the manuscript I'm about to work on has a reputation for being jealous of anything and everything. Her secret though, is that she isn't jealous of anything, but continues to act as though she is because she wants people to be scared of her. Not terribly exciting.

Matthew Rush said...

You're hilarious.

You've read my first few chapters so you'll know what I mean when I say that Lee does think about Stephanie's T&A, when he's lying in bed at night, but he would never admit it, because he admires her so much.

Colene Murphy said...

Ha! You're awesome. I was reading that, cringing, just waiting for the part where the toilet paper fell out of the bottom of the skirt or something. Glad it didn't happen!!

My MC really doesn't hate her mother, even though she abandoned her.

Nothing important to know for my novel, but just something about her character. I even wrote about her hating her mother a long time ago, but deleted it all just b/c it didn't fit. I couldn't make it work.

It is neat, knowing things no one else does about them

Crystal Jigsaw said...

And now we all know your little secret! I've been tempted to do the same on a few occasions!

CJ xx

Patty Blount said...

Oh, yes! When I was teaching software use, someone gave me this advice: "Act as if..."

Fill in the blank. Act as if you know the material cold. Act as if you planned to erase all the lab data so students could troubleshoot. Act as if you own the freakin' world...

It was a way to gain confidence to stand in front of a class and you know what? It works! Nobody ever knew I'd thrown up my breakfast a few minutes before every class started, that my knees were knocking together behind the podium.

In BORDERLINES, Sheridan "acted as if" she were this hard-edged, tough doctor who never ever got emotional over her patients' plights. The hero, Thomas, was the only man she'd ever met that saw through her act.

I regularly keep a list of secrets for my characters, including what might happen if those secrets were revealed. Sometimes I use this info and sometimes, I don't. It's really an exercise for me to get into their heads.

lora96 said...

Clever trick with the tag. All I thought when I saw your pic was, wow nice rack! I'm elegant, I know. Perhaps this is why I'm never invited to IMPORTANT MEETINGS lol.

My mc spends all her time angling for approval from her family but she secretly doesn't want to fit in at all.

Trisha Leigh said...

I love hearing authors talk about those little tidbits that don't make it into the book. My Maury loves candied pecans. Random.

Matthew AT Banning said...

Oh wow! Looking back I just realized all my characters have secrets!!!

Some of them get revealed in book two, but some are kept for book ten (I know ten is a bit much, but I have it all planned out!).

I'm not sure about book one's MC ... I could say he's quite maticulous about how he likes things done ...

I'm still looking for representation for book one here!

Abby Minard said...

Haha, love your tag/toilet paper story! Hope you were able to return the skirt! Do your co-workers read your blog- 'cause now they know!

Lets see, my main character loved her father more than her mother.

Elisabeth Black said...

I was waiting for the moment the toilet paper would fall out the bottom of your skirt. That's what would have happened to me.

Tawna Fenske said...

Claire Dawn, ooh, keep me posted on whether the virgin/skank thing makes it in!

PK Hrezo, now I have to think about what my current heroine is afraid of :)

twinklebelle, too funny! I once blogged about the time I wore fishnets to work. Here's a link:
http://tawnafenske.blogspot.com/2010/04/if-you-are-what-you-wear-im-in-big.html

Sarah, no bacon?! (shudder)

Linda G, you evil wench. Hurry up and finish the sequel then so I can hear about it!

Danica, jealous like stabby jealous, or just regular jealous?

Matthew, oh Lee, you dog :)

Colene, I can't tell you how surprised I was that it DIDN'T happen like that!

Crystal, kinda wondering if anyone will remember the secrets by the time my books start hitting shelves.

Patty, oooh, I like the idea of considering what might happen if the secrets were revealed!

lora96, LOL on the "nice rack" comment. Uh, thanks. I guess :)

Trisha, thank you for making me crave candied pecans now.

Matthew AT Banning, TEN books?! My but you're ambitious!

Abby, I returned the skirt without incident yesterday! I doubt any of my co-workers read the blog, though I did show my toilet paper tag to one of them.

Elizabeth, I really was sure it would happen to me. Can't believe it didn't!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Danica Avet said...

Tawna, well she is a bit unhinged, so she isn't stabby jealous so much as punchy jealous. It's all in good fun. I mean, you can't really inflict much damage on immortals.