Many stories have secrets that certain characters keep from others. The reveal of these secrets to other characters often drive many scenes afterwards as well as the interplay between those that the secret affects the most. The most important aspect is how the secret is revealed. I’ll use the British soap Eastenders as an example. This storyline is perfect for this discussion, because there are many layers to the secret of this family. The writers did something right if this storyline is still widely viewed and talked about ten years later. It is a favorite of many people, myself included.
The Slater family will be used for this example. Those who watch the show might know which secret I’m referencing here. The youngest child in the household, Zoe Slater, believed that she was the youngest sister to the other Slater girls. Soon after the family’s introduction, we begin to see the character, Kat Slater, act differently towards Zoe. At first, the audience watching the storyline unfold, thought that Kat was being overprotective over Zoe because Zoe was the youngest. Then, at Zoe’s birthday, the audience learns that Kat is Zoe’s birth mother. Kat was speaking to her father in her bedroom and she begins to lose it, saying that Zoe was her baby. Certain things begin to make sense now. I’m sure many viewers were shocked at the revelation.
The storyline continues on, with the audience at the edge of their seats each time Kat and Zoe interacted, especially their arguments. The viewers knew the truth, however, Zoe and other family members didn’t. Certain things begin to escalate between the two of them and their newly arrived Uncle Harry. Kat really hates the man, but the audience doesn’t know why. Kat was civil to him whenever other family members were around, but acted angry with him when they were alone. Uncle Harry tried to make nice with Kat, though she wouldn’t have any of it. Of course, the audience is confused with this development, though I’m sure some were beginning to figure things out.
Uncle Harry and Zoe were talking about Zoe moving to Spain with him, so Zoe could help Uncle Harry with his pub. This secret was revealed during the bachelorette party of Kat’s older sister. She didn’t see that coming and she became livid, immediately forbidding Zoe from going to Spain. An argument erupted between the two before they both stormed out. Kat continues to yell at Zoe, telling her that she couldn’t go to Spain with Uncle Harry. This was the moment when many were once again on the edge of their seats. Zoe turns and screams at Kat that she wasn’t her mother. The moment of truth. Kat screams back, “Yes I am!” The secret is revealed, and the some watching admitted that they began to cheer! Take note, a major was revealed that immediately changed the dynamic between these two characters. But were the secrets over? Not by a long shot! The best was about to come.
The next episode was all about these two characters and the emotional rollercoaster was amazing! The two actresses playing these two did an awesome job with this storyline, it’s my favorite to date. You could see the anger at this secret being kept from Zoe, the bitterness from Kat having to keep this secret from Zoe, the pain from the loss of innocence do to a rape. This storyline became even more complicated when Zoe told Kat that going to Spain is perfect because she could have time to think about things. Kat forbade it once more. More anger from Zoe. The next major secret was revealed. Uncle Harry raped Kat when she was thirteen and Uncle Harry was Zoe’s father. Another shock for Zoe.
Zoe tells Kat’s father everything, revealing who her real father was. Uncle Harry, his brother, was responsible for Kat becoming pregnant at such a young age. The brothers had a falling out, and that was the last we see of Uncle Harry, hearing in a later episode that he had died in Spain. The othr sisters were shocked and outrage of this secret being kept from them. Kat’s father learned that his wife knew about the whole ordeal, which made him think less of her. Kat takes a bottle of pills and drinks a bottle of alchohol to try and commit suicide, which begins another storyline within the original.
From this point on, Kat and Zoe’s great relationship began to deteriorate to the point where Zoe runs away from home and began living on the streets of London. Kat tries desperately to find Zoe, with no luck until much later while a female pimp is trying to prostitute Zoe out to older men. Kat finally finds Zoe, only to later run away from everything and ended up in prison.
This storyline has many elements of revealing secrets to the audience (in an author’s world, to their readers). Even one major secret needs to have complex layers that affects everybody involved in some way. The more difficult thing for any author is deciding how to reveal the secret to the reader. Will the reader learn the secret before the characters? If you decide for the reader to learn the secret at the same time as the characters, there should be subtle hints leading up to the reveal. This makes sure the story doesn’t lose its believability for the reader.
If you’re interested in see how the story of Kat and Zoe Slater plays out, Youtube has many videos dedicated to these characters that includes all of the best parts mentioned above as well as others. I hope this has helped you learn more about how secrets can be handled. After the episode dedicated to Kat and Zoe aired, it was followed by a hotline number for those who have gone through similar experiences as the character of Kat. The lines exploded, which allowed more awareness and conversation about the subject of incestual rape/rape in general. Although you might not care enough to “preach” about a subject in your fiction, it certainly doesn’t hurt if it is done well enough to get people talking about your work and recommending it to others.