What Lies Beneath

Thea Devine today, thinking about families and secrets. One of my cousins passed away suddenly and very recently.  I didn’t really know her until we reconnected as adults: her family had moved away years before. As an adult, she became the one in the family who always knew what was going on and what everyone was doing, where and when,  She’d worked in finance, she was involved in local politics, and she was well-loved by those who knew her.  She was pragmatic, empathetic, a great listener, a wonderful friend, and a very very dear person.

Her sister sent me, and other cousins, an Hermes scarf in its original box, mine with a Revolutionary War motif as a momento.  It was rather a puzzling thing.  The cousin I knew just wasn’t an Hermes scarf type of person.  Another cousin and I discussed it quite a bit — what to do with these obviously expensive and highly decorative designer scarves, and why the sister had chosen them as something for us to remember our deceased cousin by.

Long story short:  at the memorial service, it was one of things most talked about by her friends and family —  our cousin’s well-known love of scarves and how she collected and wore them as her signature accessory.  And that too seemed startling and totally out of sync with the woman I knew.

But it made me think about it in terms of the characters we create.  What lies under the skin that we don’t initially know, that we discover later on to have major impact on the story (or a life)?  A man who resented his late mother’s influence on his father, always feeling she’d held him back and that his father had resented it, discovers his father actually needed her plain practical common sense to keep him grounded.

Because the hero had discovered in his father’s bedroom a drawer full of his mother’s things, redolent with her scent, including her wedding gown that his father kept all these years.  And why?  Because despite of all their fights, disagreements,  and the-on-the-surface disdain for each other, his father really loved his mother deeply, a conclusion that turns the hero’s world upside down.

Another scenario:  a rich playgirl takes a local country girl into her glamorous hedonistic set, ostensibly because local girl had saved her from drowning. As the heroine is more and more both seduced and corrupted by the playgirl’s lifestyle, she never considers there might be something else propelling all that generous gratitude.

What subtle clues do you leave?  The playgirl’s gratitude is beginning to become too extensive and intrusive, leaving the heroine no choice  but to accept all that she offers.  How could she say no?  And yet —

The heroine starts to feel wary when she’s convinced to leave an internship and become the playgirl’s personal assistant.  How close can they get?  What ‘s really going on?

What does the playgirl really want from someone she would normally consider a “nothing” in her world?   Or does the playgirl have plans for the heroine?  The heroine is in love with the man she wants, and the playgirl will corrupt her to the point that that she will be rejected by him. If that doesn’t succeed, the playgirl has a more drastic plan.

What secrets are your characters hoarding, like silk scarves in a dresser, to be taken out judiciously and worn discreetly, and eventually coming  to light to reveal what at first seemed to be hidden?

What was there about your character all along that we never consciously saw, never considered?  What indeed lies beneath?

Do you have someone in your life or fiction who surprised you by an aspect of their personality about which you had no idea?  Are you the one with secrets under the skin?

Hermes, scarf, writing, craft, clues protagonists, characters, clues, personality


8 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath”

  1. Much to think about, Thea. I do have a deep dark secret in my upcoming trilogy, that will be revealed toward the end of book one. It’s fun to drop little hints along the way and then to hit the reader with the big reveal so that instead of saying, “That was obvious,” they say, “Oh, man, I did NOT see that coming.” As a reader, It’s one of the hallmarks of a good book for me. I love the surprises you discover about a character that lets you see who they really are underneath it all.

    1. I’ll tell, Marian. The playgirl was a protagonist in Bad As She Wants to Be, and the son who so misread his parents’ relationship was Sam Garrison in my long-ago Lovegram, Montana Mistress. I was a pantser long before the term came in to usage, but I distinctly remember majorly plotting this part — what the hero believed so influenced how he thought of his parents as well as how he treated women, including the heroine, that it was very satisfying to upend it all in the end.


  2. I also think that a character’s secrets (whatever form they take) are what separates good fiction from bad. That “Aha” moment, the moment of revelation when the heroine/hero changes forever, never fails to give me goosebumps when it’s done right. I’m so often drawn to secondary characters, sometimes more than main characters, when I read. I wonder now if that’s because I don’t know their secrets. Another terrific post, Thea. Thanks!

  3. In my WIP there are a lot of secrets. My biggest problem is holding back and not revealing too much too soon. I love secrets, especially when a writer uses twists and turns in the plot to reveal them. Thanks Thea … this confirms I am on the right track with this latest work. You’re Awesome … Love ya. Gerri

  4. Thea, heavy stuff to think about. You gave me thought. How to play on the secrets of the characters. Imagine, finding Herme scarves and the original boxes that belonged to someone you knew well. Rather, thought you knew well. She had a secret you never imagined.

    1. i love it, Gail. I’m ruminating on possible plotlines for the scarf as well. I’m sure my cousin wouldn’t have minded. A luxury item is a great jumping off point.


  5. For sure. a luxury item is a great jumping off point. I love Hermes scarves . . . and I do keep the original boxes. But when I leave this earth, no one will be surprised with the find. I am such a sucker for well-made and beautiful. We won’t discuss the cost.

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