For those of you who are new followers around here--*waves at the smiling faces in my sidebar*--you should know, I'm a very character driven writer. Basically I let them run the show, and I'm just along for the ride. And the only way I can do that is if I know my characters really well.
I have a lot of character development exercises I do to really dig deep into their personalities, but one of the most helpful--for me at least--is to ask myself what they're hiding from me. And I don't mean the, "I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" kind of secrets. (Those are important too, of course. But lets face it, most of our characters only have one or two BIG secrets.) I mean the little secrets. The things that make them real.
The wife who lies to her husband about her lipwaxing appointments because she doesn't want him to know she has a mustache that could rival Tom Selleck (okay, that was the ONLY celebrity with a mustache that I could think of).
The teenage girl who never goes to the beach with her friends because she's self conscious of the way her outie belly button looks, and she doesn't want to be the only girl not in a bikini.
The decent looking guy who never smiles with his teeth showing so people won't see how crooked his teeth are.
The tiny flaws everyone has and tries to hide, to pretend we're all just a little more perfect than we really are.
They may seem insignificant, but they can make a big difference. For instance--thanks to my poor sleeping habits--I usually have wicked dark circles under my eyes, which means I don't dare leave the house without concealer. It may seem like a pointless detail, but put me in a situation where I'm around people and I don't have my concealer and you bet it's gonna change my behavior.
And it's the same thing with your characters. Knowing all the tiny things they hide adds depth to the character--even if the detail never comes out. If you were writing about the teenage girl mentioned above, you might never tell the reader she's self conscious about her belly button. But it will still shape your story. You won't have any scenes at the beach. She'll never be tempted to get a belly button ring, or to bare her midriff--even when there's a cute boy she wants to impress. Your readers won't need to know why. But you know.
So how about you guys? Do you know what your characters are hiding? Have you made them spill all their secrets?