The Central Series: The Motif of Secrets

According to the book architecture method, after determining all the series (repetitions) in her book, the writer must decide which is her central series–the main storyline will rest on this series.

My central series is secrets. A secret can be a painful wound at the heart of a family. What happens to a secret that doesn’t get any air? It festers and infects the entire body of the family.

The other side of the coin from secrecy is privacy. Aren’t people entitled to their privacy?

In my story, the protagonist (me, of course) tries to exhume the family secrets, but is also desperate to hang onto her own privacy with the family. Sounds sort of hypocritical ;).

Photo by Marisha

To give myself inspiration on the topic of secrets, I searched for quotes. These spoke to me as meaningful for my story:

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
― George Orwell, 1984

Of course, it is impossible to hide a secret, once known, from oneself. The more I realize it’s a secret, the more it weighs on my mind. Therefore, one way or another, the secret will out itself.

“Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.”
― James Joyce, Ulysses

I envision secrets just this way–heavy and controlling with their silent power. They want to be kicked out of their thrones, uncrowned, but we let them tyrannize us and those close to us.

“You cannot let your parents anywhere near your real humiliations.”
― Alice Munro, Open Secrets

I learned early to protect myself from my family by developing a thick wall. That was my way of secret-keeping.

“Secrets have a way of making themselves felt, even before you know there’s a secret.”
― Jean Ferris, Once Upon a Marigold

Although this quote doesn’t come from a weighty tome as do the other quotes, it is so fitting for my story. From before my birth the secrets existed, so I grew up under the weight, the tyranny, of the secrets long before I finally realized they existed.

Have you written about secrets in your family?

P.S. Those of you who were commiserating with me about my old cat Mac who has a bad heart and was diagnosed with diabetes: I got his glucose down with a diet change. So he doesn’t need insulin for now!

If you have cats, think about switching to high quality canned food. I did hours and hours of research and now wish I had done so years ago. If you want to know more about the results of my research, email me at writersite.wordpress[@]gmail[dot]com.

42 Comments

Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

42 responses to “The Central Series: The Motif of Secrets

  1. Some great quotes, can see why you were inspired by them 🙂

    • Mishka, I can’t figure out why I don’t go to quotes more often for inspiration as they are really a wonderful launching pad for the mind and heart.

  2. I also started to build a wall from my family early on – it was a way of protecting myself from their disapproval and its legacy is that I still find it difficult to share what I’m feeling today.

    • Andrea, I had not taken a look at the walls I had built until a few years ago. Although I know those walls are supposed to come down, it seems to me that if we don’t keep them up for OTHERS, that it’s ok to keep them for the people in our lives we can’t trust. Does that make sense? Some people you can’t negotiate with through “therapeutic channels.”

  3. Glad to hear about Mac. Treating with diet is the best possible outcome. As for secrets, I just found out a dark family secret this past summer (I’m 67). I have always been amazed that my mother was a great keeper of secrets, not necessarily in a bad way, this particular secret was not my business. She would have referred to it as gossip. I often wonder if my cousin (it’s about her mother’s birth) knows but it’s not my story to tell and most of the participants are dead. It may spin a good story though.

    • Kate, I’m so thrilled about the diet. Keeping my fingers crossed! Oh, yes, I think I know the type of secret you are talking about. That type of thing, since it’s not quite your story to tell might be better as a the basis for fiction ;). By the way, reading WordPress blogger S.K. Nicholls’ novel “Red Clay and Roses” right now and it’s about secrets so that’s also making me think more about who owns what story.

  4. I pride myself of being the ultimate secret keeper! It’s a matter of character for me. When someone says don’t tell anyone, I honor that. For me personally, I prefer to live my life as an open book. I love transparency and I think it’s so healthy and helpful. When I write, I pretty much use myself as fotter and leave my family out of it. I do, however, plan to write a sort of fictional memoir about my sisters and me, so I’ll need to discuss boundaries with them prior to publishing. My relationship with them is paramount, so if they aren’t comfortable with a story, I won’t use it. I totally get your concern: it’s a fine line between telling your truth in a memoir, and guarding the family privacy. I have confidence that you’ll find the right balance Luanne!

    • Faith, be careful or you will find yourself holding too many secrets because everybody loves somebody they can unburden themselves to–and have it stay right there!! Transparency is so healthy. The more lies and secrets that pile up in relationships, the more they threaten to suffocate the relationship! Thanks, Faith!!

  5. Great quotes! My favorite is Joyce on the tyrannical nature of secrets and their deep-seated desire to be dethroned. Pretty much sums up the whole conundrum, doesn’t it?

    • Oh, it does. I can’t get that quote out of my mind! They call all the shots and one of the shots is “tell about me!!!” hahaha They are almost like little demons in themselves, trying to get us into trouble!

  6. Our family has always been big secret keepers and I could never keep my mouth shut. When my uncle started the nudist resort in FL, my grandma and Aunts and Uncles told everybody in our small town in GA he had a Standard Oil Co. (That was to explain the money he came into and was freely sharing with his family.) At fifteen, I let the cat out of the bag mentioning it in the local pharmacy while picking up my grandma’s scripts. It was all over town and back to her by the end of the day….oops.

    • Susan, that is just one hilarious (to me who is not part of your family haha) story! hahaha
      I’m loving your book right now (almost half way through) and it’s all about secrets!!!!

  7. Hi Luanne! I’m so happy to hear Mac is doing better, that’s great news. 🙂
    I’ve never written about family secrets…mainly because no one has told me any. Perhaps they think I’ll write about them. 🙂

  8. Here’s a question: Are secrets infectious? If you grow up knowing a secret about your family that you’re not supposed to tell, does that make you more likely to keep secrets from/for others?

  9. Glad to hear about the cat!

    There are still secrets in my family that I haven’t written about, but a lot of them did come out when I wrote poetry. WHich is why I rarely shared my poems with them, LOL.

    • C, re Mac, me too!! Interesting how you worded that: “did come out when I wrote poetry,” as if they inadvertently came out or were determined to make their way into the light of day and you were the unknowing scribe! Yes, I can understand that. I have my set of poems for everyone and another set for everyone except family ;).

  10. Love the quotes in this piece, Luanne. It reminded me of this famous Tolstoy quote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Secrets are always an undercurrent in every family. Writing about them becomes tenuous in memoir, but fiction allows all writers the opportunity to excavate.

    • Rudri, I like that notion: as if every family with secrets has a different secret and that is what makes them unique! That gives me something to think about re your story and mine!

  11. Ahh…family secrets. Those old chestnuts. How powerful they are and how incredibly destructive. Then there is the shame. Great quotes Luanne, thank you.

    I missed have missed the news about your Mac, not sure why 😦 So glad he is doing better. We had a cat Willow (I brought her back with me to the UK from the States) developed diabetes after a diet of dry food only. Sadly it was too late for her, she went into kidney failure only a few days later and had to be put down. It was devastating. Then my boy, Eddie, at the age of 2, developed life-threatening bladder crystals and needed emergency surgery. The dry food again, far too salty. Now our cats have good quality meat and only a small amount of high quality dry food which is designed for mature cats, good for their teeth, kidneys etc. No problems. Our vet told us that supermarket dry food is the worst thing if that is their only diet. We learn so much don’t we…after the fact. Hoping that Mac continues on feeling better, sounds like you have things well in control 🙂

    • Sheri, shame might be my next “book series” post! That’s a tough one!
      Oh, poor Willow! That’s so sad! And to think Eddie had to go through that! Yes, I hate that I didn’t learn this stuff a long time ago. I mean, all 4 of my cats are seniors, and I’m only learning this now!!! They are now eating Weruva canned Paw Lickin’ Chicken (they love to hear me say it, I think) and 9 Liver and Tiki Cat Koolani Luau. They love the chicken ones! Low carbs, low phosphorus. But they are hardly “eliminating” any more. (Sorry, but it’s a mystery to me!)

      • Ahh…thanks Luanne, it is tough to lose our darling furry babies isn’t it, to say the least? I’m with you, I’ve had cats all my life, ever since my mum bred Siamese when I was very young but it wasn’t until Willow became ill that I learn about this diet thing. I wonder why vets don’t tell us this? Love the names of the new food…sounds delish! And as for the non-elimation, well, you’ve got me stumped on that too! Happy cat lovin’ 🙂

  12. Luanne, I am an honest person.
    To a fault. But once I did lie to a boyfriend (going out with another man…Hey I was 23) and the way to do that, is to believe the lie. And that, in a sense, is lying to oneself! About my family, I am open. And I am not so sure that is a good idea. I have some very strange stories in my life. I think I was like Isadora when I was young: I vowed to have an interesting life. It’s very dull and ordinary now. But looking back……

  13. Great quotes Luanne. I’ve got secrets, who doesn’t? But they are mundane ones and seems totally muddled up with privacy. I don’t think I’ve got any family secrets… well, I might have… I’m a descendant of the American Indians (according to my son, he attributes my long hair and piercing brown eyes to my genealogy! 🙂
    I hope you peel out secrets from your book when it’s out! Glad your dad is okay. Flawless post!!

    • Seyi, thank you for saying such a nice thing about my post! I love that story about you being a descendent of American Indians. If only you could go back in time and “spy” on your ancestors that would make for an interesting story, wouldn’t it?!

  14. First of all, so glad about Mac. I am so happy that he doesn’t have to have insulin shots. My Mom’s dog, became quite sprite and healthy while taken from her, during the time she was healing from her fall. She needed therapy and a walker, not so easy for us to imagine Mom walking the dog with the walker. Anyway, my brother and sister in law brought Nicki back to Mom, made her promise to be more careful of her diet, since she had thought if nice to share her leftovers from the dining room. I will see how this is progressing, over Labor day weekend! (Just changing her diet helped her to have less mucous around her eyes and nose, also she was cured of a UTI. Who knew that would be such an easy solution for your cat or Mom’s dog?)
    As far as secrets, I don’t tell bad things about my parents, because the things they may have done were ‘mistakes,’ ones I learned more about as a parent, myself. There were never any really serious mistakes or secrets to tell.

    • I am amazed to hear that about your mother’s dog. I sure hope she can keep her diet correct because the difference is absolutely astounding. Of course, this is a good lesson for us humans regarding what we eat, but I haven’t taken it to heart yet for myself! Good luck with the doggie, Robin. I hope the family can stay on top of the situation.
      On another note, why are the grocery stores stocked full of these bad foods and vets let us all keep buying them for our sweeties?

  15. Exhuming family secrets is fun, but privacy is definitely an issue.

    • And not always fun either, but necessary! But privacy is sort of the hot topic right now, I think, as we are all willingly and unwillingly losing ours.

  16. Sometimes, you don’t want things to be kept in secret but society dictates the norm so you know you’re better off not telling. Less complicated.

    Family secrets that aren’t spoken of…they seem the scariest.

    • It’s true that society has a lot to do with secrets shared or held close, and sometimes it is even just someone’s perception of society and the eyes of others. Family secrets that are never spoken of can truly be toxic.

  17. I agree, with others who’ve commented, that your quotes are great, Luanne. I also like the idea of secrets. We all have them and what’s interesting is why and how keeping secrets perpetrates shame. Somehow we’ve been taught that the grass is always purer on the other side…but hey, look at the brown spots and all the weeds they have! . 🙂

    • Haha, I’m so much better at this now, but when I was a kid I always thought everybody else had the prettiest “lawn,” which usually met nicer clothes, etc.

  18. There’s a marvellous book called ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ by Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, about family secrets – it’s a great read.

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