Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Deep Dark Secrets Revealed

I love the show Project Runway. Okay, love isn't quite the word. Let's see...addicted. That's it. I'm addicted.

A few weeks ago, there was an episode that has no equal in the history of Project Runway. And if you watch the show, you know exactly what I'm talking about, right?

The challenge was this: Design your own fabric using HP Smart Touch technology, then design a look using your fabric. The fabric design must represent something deeply personal to you.

So the designers set to work on their computers. One of my favorite designers, Mondo Guerra, is known for his bright fabric choices. So it was no surprise when he designed a colorful pattern with plus signs that linked together.

When asked what it meant, he kept it close to his chest. But in his private interview in front of the camera, he explained it like this.

"I used the plus signs because they represent..." He stopped talking. Opened his mouth and closed it again. Took a deep breath. "They represent my HIV positive status."


His voice wavered, and tears trickled from his eyes. "My family doesn't know..." He shared the misunderstandings in his family's history and the fact that he didn't want to hurt them with the truth.

At that point, I pretty much lost it. As in, I turned into a crying, blubbering mess reaching for the tissue box.

Here's the thing. In the first episode when I first "met" Mondo, I didn't really care for him. He came across as socially awkward, a little geeky, very distant. As the show progressed, I saw shreds of light that slowly endeared him to me - like when he befriended the designer everyone loved to hate and apologized for misjudging him earlier on.

But there was something about learning Mondo's secret that shook me. It gave me insight into his social awkwardness, the distance he kept between him and the other designers. This secret ate away at him. When he finally revealed his secret to the other contestants, the physical change in him was palpable. He literally lost 100 pounds from his shoulders.

And it got me thinking about my characters. What deep dark secrets do they hide? Everyone has one, whether it's as serious as Mondo's or not. There's something each person holds inside that explains who they are and why they react to situations the way they do.

As writers, we have to explore our characters until we find the core issue that defines them, that secret that even their family doesn't know. And think about how we can bring those secrets out in our stories for maximum emotional impact (aka, making readers reach for their tissue box).

Do you get writing inspiration from watching TV? What deep dark secrets do your characters hide that you can use to enhance your story?

*Red Cross photo by Renjith Krishnan


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Excellent post! I've been thinking about this very thing with my new story and its characters. Sometimes it is difficult to create a secret that is believable, you know? It's too dark for your character, or it's just not plausible. OR...just plain silly.

I think most unlovable people/characters would be endearing if we only knew their "dark secret". The walls we put up in fear of letting others know can be hard to climb, but if we take the time to breach those walls, we find someone needing love....just like everyone else.

Loved this post!!!!

Renee Ann said...

Nice post, Sarah! It's good to think of what a character's secret might be, and also what they might do to keep the secret hidden at all costs. I've seen some great plot lines that all stem from the secret one person is determined to hide!

Pepper said...

Oh boy, Sarah! GREAT post - and I love those secrets. Planting those secrets or finding out about them along the way.
In my contemp my hero became drunk and slept with his fiance's sister while they were separated from each other.
In my historical my heroine was sexually abused by her father, which in her mind means she can never get married because she's spoiled goods.
In another one of my historicals, my heroine's father is an abusive alcoholic - and she doesn't want the hero to find out.

You know, though, I've realzed that some secrets don't have to be 'dark'. In Mary Connealy's newest book, her tough heroine has a secret love for frills. That touch of femininity made her heroine more complex, I thought.

I think one of the classic dark secrets is in Jane Eyre with Mr. Rochester's crazy wife hidden away in the attic. Suddenly the reader feels an enormous amount of sympathy for this reclusive, harsh, and abrupt man.

Anyway, sorry to ramble. Nice post.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post, Sarah! I've never even seen Project Runway, but that was a great example (and I have to admit I got a tad emotional for this man--and I don't even know who he is).

My MC is a member of a fundamentalist cult and is married to a husband that is physically and emotionally abusive. Such backgrounds breed secrets and she has lots. From the fact that she writes poetry that expresses her feelings about the cult, her husband, and her former boyfriend who was kicked out of the cult. She hides beloved books given to her by her rebellious Aunt and these words fill her with strength. And eventually its the hidden black Bible that gives her the strength to walk away from it all and begin to explore a new faith.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Sherrinda - "If we take the time to breach those walls, we find someone needing love." So true. I wanted to reach through the TV and squeeze Mondo when he revealed his secret.

Renee Ann - "what they might do to keep the secret hidden at all costs"...Yes, I agree! The more we put them in a corner and MAKE their secret come out against their will, the higher the drama. :)

Pepper - Wow, you tackle some tough issues in your writing! I agree with you about the fact that they don't have to be 'dark.' Love the example from Mary Conneally's book!

Julia - I love how you touched on exploring what might give the character strength to open up about their secrets. That's one more aspect that can help us understand them better.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'm having big time difficulties leaving comments today. Ah, finally found a way.

I'm working with my character's secrets big time right now, trying to create empathy and sympathy from them, but also trying to introduce them gradually.

Love this post!
~ Wendy

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sarah, I watched this episode! I have a little addiction to Project Runway, too. Can't wait for the episode tomorrow.

Anyway, I felt the same as you. I didn't particularly like Mondo in the beginning (although he is from Denver so I had to feel a little more allegiance :D) but he grew on me. And his growth and his strength in those circumstances touched me.

Both my characters in my WIP have secrets--the heroines was just revealed but my hero is keeping his locked away a little tighter. Even the reader doesn't know yet but I think they're going to start to see what's coming :)

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pepper about the secrets not needing to be dark. I'm not far enough along to know how many secrets will be revealed, but I know what they are!

Kav said...

Interesting point about the 'dark secret'. I usually don't watch reality type tv shows so I have never seen Project Runway but I can see a show like that could be great scope for a writer's imagination!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wendy - Introducing them gradually is a tricky thing...then putting it all at there for that emotional "pow". I like it best when they're fully revealed about 2/3rds of the way through. Nothing specific in that number, it just seems like a good spot - not so early that the reader loses interest but not so late that the reader loses patience.

Cindy - A fellow Project Runway fan...woohoo! So who do you think is getting nixed from Fashion Week tomorrow? I'm predicting Gretchen or Michael.

Karin - Half the fun of writing is discovering those secrets and when they'll be revealed, isn't it? Happy secret hunting! :)

Kav - This is the first time I've gotten writing inspiration from Project Runway, but it always fuels my creative juices, whether writing related or not. :) I'm a reality TV junkie. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Ooooh, see, I've been getting kind of bored with Gretchen's stuff, but I think when she has the time for a full collection, she'll do pretty well. And I bet it will be unique. I'm not sure Michael has that versatility, though a lot of his stuff is more appealing to me than the others. Of course, I dress myself for real life, not the runway, so that also makes a difference. I think Mondo is safe, though, and as long as Andy doesn't go all super warrior, then he'll be fine.

Wait a second, this isn't the Project Runway fan club blog, is it? :D