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Story Ideas: 15 Secrets Your Characters Could Be Hiding

One of the biggest things we need for a great story in addition to a compelling concept is having strong, three dimensional characters. Aside from the physical appearances of our characters, the surface stuff we can see on screen — what are some things that don’t always show up right away?

What drives our characters to make decisions they otherwise wouldn’t make in certain situations? Our characters should be just as complex and unique as people are in real life.

Otherwise you end up with flat, predictable and forgettable characters that bring your story down. That’s why the story ideas listed below can help give your character more depth.

By giving your characters a secret, you will notice they may have to act different given the scene they are in. They may even have to avoid certain topics or just find the closest exit depending on the type of secret they’re hiding.

Below are fifteen secrets you can use and hopefully enhance that will add some additional depth to your characters.

Secret #1

Notoriously known for being homophobic but is secretly gay

This one could be great for a character who has a very established reputation for being an enemy of the LGBT community. Maybe this is the way your character was raised, but he never quite agreed with it. What could give this secret great impact is if your character has a lot to lose if anyone found out. 

Is he the Alex Jones version of why the LGBT community is not good for society? Does he come from a strict religious family with a long history of wealth and power? Think about reasons why he would masquerade as this public enemy number one and why he or she would keep their sexual preference in the closet.

If you’re having trouble thinking of a jump starting point — take this guy for example. He was a Mormon “conversion therapist” who claims he helped gay men stay in a heterosexual relationship. Well, it seems he couldn’t stay heterosexual but for so long because he recently came out the closet. Do you see the irony in this scenario?

Regardless of your preference, this is what gives your story character depth. Check out his story, it’s in the news.

Secret #2

Secretly has large fortune stashed away

This could go in so many genres and be used as part of the plot or just a simple secret one of your characters hiding. A great example of how this was used as a plot is the movie Coming To America starring Eddie Murphy. In the story, Murphy played the role of a wealthy African Prince named Akeem.

Frustrated with the process of fixed marriages, Akeem had a physical and emotional goal of finding true love — not just a queen who did everything he said and was completely submissive.

He decided to come to America and pretend to be poor while looking for true love. His goal was to find a woman who loved him for him and then reveal his true identity once he was sure he had found “the one”.

Secret #3

Has secret love child from an old fling or affair

This is very commonly used, but again the reason it still works is because it is setup properly. Whether this is a plot point or something one of your characters is being blackmailed about, it can definitely have a strong impact on how they behave in your story. Does the child grow up and expose your character?

Does the mother of the child wreck your character’s life when he is about to run for president of the United States? What if your character was a serial killer and found out later one of his victims was his own child? There are endless opportunities and directions you can go.

Secret #4

Is not your husband or wife — but secretly their twin

Endless possibilities here. Whether you use a secret twin or a doppelganger, you will have plenty of ways to play psychological games on your character and the audience.

Check out movies that use twins or doubles for ideas on how they keep people fooled. The Prestige starring Christian Bale comes to mind.

Another is Black Swan directed by Darren Aronosfsky.

Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale is another mindfuck that may gave you ideas on how to execute this character secret.

Secret #5

Has honest job by day and is assassin or serial killer by night

It may sound straightforward, but the more honest your character appears, the more impactful this character secret will be. Did your character just win the Nobel Peace Prize?

Are they the CEO of one of the biggest non profit organizations dedicated to preserving life? Again, it’s all in the execution.

Secret #6

Your character has more than two nipples or breasts

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a comedy, but could make for a great punchline with the right setup. Another genre this could fit into would be sci-fi or fantasy.

Remember the scene in Total Recall back in the day where Arnold Schwarzenegger was propositioned by a three breasted mutant inside a bar?

WARNING: Video clip below contains partial nudity.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Secret #7

Accidentally killed someone when they were younger

This secret works if the character makes a living pointing out other people’s faults (prosecutor, uptight preacher, judge who hands out harsh sentences, etc). There could be dozens of opportunities here, don’t just take my suggestions.

Having a death on your hands is some heavy stuff. Especially for a normal everyday person with compassion. That character is responsible for the grief that the entire victim’s family will struggle with the rest of their life.

What would be even more ironic — what if your character unknowingly fell in love with the victim’s brother or sister later in life?!

Secret #8

Is misleading government in tracking a monster because he/she is the monster

While it doesn’t have to be specifically the government or authorities, the gist is that your character is a monster and is pretending to help catch…himself (or herself). Vampires, werewolves, aliens, demons, the list could go on.

Secret #9

Character reveals how marriage was fake during nasty and public divorce

This secret works in a bigger plot. Your character may have been playing the long game in scamming someone. There could have even been some type of legal mistake as to why the marriage was null.

Perhaps one of your characters may have been plotting to kill their spouse for insurance money, they go through with it only to find out they were never married in the first place.

Secret #10

Took the blame and went to prison for a crime a loved one committed

This could have been based on love, protection or even a wager. Suppose your character is the black-sheep of their family and takes the rap for a murder their sister committed — under the condition the sister gives your character half of her inheritance ($1 Billion).

Your character does fifteen years in prison, gets out for good behavior and — boom. The sister somehow doesn’t hold up her end of the bargain and stiffs your character.

Secret #11

Character reveals how marriage was fake during nasty and public divorce

This secret works in a bigger plot. Your character may have been playing the long game in scamming someone. There could have even been some type of legal mistake as to why the marriage was null.

Perhaps one of your characters may have been plotting to kill their spouse for insurance money, they go through with it only to find out they were never married in the first place.

Secret #12

Has been secretly using loved one as a drug mule without their knowledge

I’ve actually seen instances of this retold in shows like Locked Up Abroad. This secret really plays into your characters personality and shows just how selfish, greedy or desperate they are.

Secret #13

Brilliant and powerful man or woman is unknowingly psychologically unstable and has imaginary spouse

Did you know that President Lincoln supposedly foresaw his own death more than once? Including in a dream he had just before he was killed? What if your powerful character had these types of dreams frequently?

What if there were a ghost from his dream that gave him information critical to his or her success under one condition — they got married! Till death do us part — literally!

Secret #14

Character believes they are a demon

What if your character believes they are a demon — because they actually are, or what if they were hypnotized into thinking they were?

Your character is completely sane, but these creepy things keep occurring to him or her when nobody is around.

Are they in a position were they can reveal their secret for help without being thrown into the psycho ward?

Secret #15

Lawyer, judge or police officer helps guilty people beat their case — only to torture and kill them later

A good example of how this one is pulled off is from the television series Dexter. He works as a forensics expert for the local police by day and is a serial killer by night. Only he knows if the suspects he studies are truly guilty or not.

Sometimes he tries to let the law take care of the bad guys, but in other instances he needs to step in before the other bad guys commit another crime. Dexter is sort of an anti-hero we root for because he targets people who are more evil than he is.

Maybe your character is similar or maybe your character is just a true villain. You be the judge.

Secret #16 (BONUS)

Accountant who works for drug cartels anonymously

I thought about this one after watching the movie with Ben Affleck called, The Accountant. Oh the irony. Anyway, this is an example of how the character’s secret ties directly into the plot of the movie.

There are several ways to switch this up and make it into something else though. Take a look at the television series Ozark where the main character is an account for a drug cartel, but not by choice. In addition to his own life being at stake, his family is involved and ends up constantly in danger as well. It starts off as a secret, but it ties directly into the plot and dictates how the character makes his decisions.

Remember, these are just ideas to kickstart the development of your character development or plot. Add something unique to these ideas so it becomes something we haven’t seen before.

If you thought these were helpful then make sure to check out the blog post on Top 5 Common Mistakes in Screenwriting.

If you’re looking for more ideas on story make sure to check out 60 story ideas for your novel or screenplay.

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Jay Carver

Jay Carver is a screenwriter, director and producer. Through his production company J-Style Films, he has done work for companies such as Turner Broadcasting. In the past, he has worked with Hollywood actor Omari Hardwick and won several film festivals including "Best Director".


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