Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Secrets, Stairs and Story Smithing

We had a secret staircase.
Not a gloriously hidden one in an old castle.
If we had one of those I probably wouldn't be a writer.
The mysteries of life would already be solved.

No, our secret staircase was one of our 
visit-the-grandparents landmarks, 
like passing the over sized grasshoppers churning for oil 
in the flat fields, or smelling salt and coconut oil as we neared the beach.
My parents drove to the end of a neighborhood street 
and abandoned their three starry-eyed mountain kids 

to traverse down a maze of hidden staircases
and find ourselves by the end.

Or, at least, find our avocado green station wagon,
panting away at the bottom.

Our secret staircase.

from The Secret Garden,
illustrated by Inga Moore

Secrets can be beautiful, gossipy, or horrifying.
Secrets are what we hang our hats on as writers.

We need secrets,
and mystery
and questions
to tell stories.

Questions to help unleash your story:

What are my Main Character's greatest secrets?
Who does she listen to?
Who needs her help?
What are her vices?
What does she care about?
What changes her?
Who loves her?

What Questions do you ask your story?

Do you have secret staircases,
-places or memories that represent a portal into mystery, 
danger and espionage, orphans and castles,
and the great What If?

Secrets are why we read books,
why we keep turning the pages. 

So, writer friends: 

How do you weave secrets and mystery into your writing?

I'd love to know!

Powerfully Mysterious Picture Books:

The Secret Box - Barbara Lehman
Rainstorm - Barbara Lehman
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - Chris Van Allsburg
Snow Moon - Nicholas Brunelle
The Secret Circus - Johanna Wright

from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
by Chris Van Allsburg

Books with Deep Secrets for older readers:

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 
illustrated by Inga Moore, Candlewick Press

from The Princess and the Goblin
by George MacDonald, ill. Jessie Wilcox Smith

The Princess and the Goblin - George MacDonald
The Princess and Curdie - George MacDonald
Wolves of Willoughby Chase- Joan Aiken
Dragon's Keep - Janet Lee Carey


Words A Day said...

I love your posts. They are inspiring.
I used to climb into my wardrobe and test the wall sure one day i'd get through to Narnia, always thought it might've worked if we had fur coats instead of anoraks:) I love the idea of secret rooms, doors, gardens...portals, doors into other worlds, the past, the future.
In my writing I was advised once to always write as if there is a secret, even if you dont know what it is:)
Will use those character questions ... who knows what will come out:)

Vijaya said...

I didn't realize until I wrote this (my third) novel that I always have an underlying mystery/secret. I never thought of myself as a mystery writer, but each of my novels has it.

Faith Pray said...

Oh, Niamh! In my very annoying American way, I'm just going to say how happy it makes me that you had a real wardrobe with anoraks. We just get closets over here. Also, you already have such a richness to your character studies. I love to read them.

Vijaya, it's funny, isn't it? Even when not "mystery genre," I think mystery is what keeps a good novel moving forward. I know I always have a hard time putting down the books with that pull to them.

barefoot mama said...

you make me desperately wish I could write:( You rock!!

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