I’m Nina Milton, and this blog is all about getting out the laptop or the pen and pad to get writing. My blogposts are focused on advice and suggestions and news for writers, but also on a love reading with plenty of reviews, and a look at my pagan life, plus arts and culture. Get all my posts as they appear by becoming a subscriber. Click below right...

Saturday 17 February 2024

The Beautiful Tau Banner of Lady Dai; Duchess of A...


  •  Xin Zhui, (better known as the Lady Dai)
    In 1971 some builders stopped for a smoke as they dug out an air raid shelter on a hill in Hunan, China. They were puzzled; as they dug deeper into the hill, the soil crumbled away as if it had  previously been disturbed. They lit their cigarettes and noticed that the matches burned with a deep blue flame. They might not have known that decomposition of human remains can release highly flammable gasses, but they left the site quickly, and reported their finding. 

    The outside cavity holding the three coffins
    When the archeologists arrived a few months later, they established that this was the resting place of a noble family of the Han dynasty. Two tombs, of the Marquis of Dai, who died in 186 BC,  and  a male relative, who may have been a son or brother, had been disrupted and robbed. But the final tomb, built circa 163 BC, for the Marquis's wife, Xin Zhui, (better known as the Lady Dai), was intact, and the archaeologists discovered  an opulent, spectacular and surprising interior. 
    One of the three inner caskets
  • The tombs were accessed via rectangular vertical shafts dug deep into the earth, a method originating from the bronze age. Lady Dai's funnel-like crypt contained more than 1,000 precious artefacts, including makeup, toiletries, lacquerware, and 162 carved wooden figures which represented her staff of servants. A meal was even laid out to be enjoyed by the 50 year-old duchess in the afterlife. In the central area lay three nesting coffins. Inside many layers of silk was the beautifully preserved mummy, wrapped in her finest robe, her skin still soft to the touch. The fact that she was quite corpulent, from her amazingly rich diet – scorpion soup was apparently a favourite – may have helped the quality of her ancient skin.
    An artefact found in the tomb
  • The outermost coffin was a plain box. Inside were the three nesting coffins painted with  hugely expensive lacquer in black, red, and white. This protected from water damage and bacterial invasion. I cannot imagine how awed the archeologists must have been as they steadily revealed each coffin.
  • But even more magnificent than all of this, was the banner that lay on top of the innermost of the coffins. This almost intact piece of beautifully painted silk would have been part of the procession of the Marquise  to her resting place. And on it were full and intricate instructions for her soul. The banner instructed Xin Zhui's spirit how to reach her paradise
  • This T-shaped silk banner was over six feet long and in excellent condition for 2000-year-old fabric. It is a very early example of pictorial art in China.
  • I first encountered this breathtaking story of life in Ancient China at a lecture given at Lampeter University, in West Wales. Fabric specialist had travelled from across the country to learn more about Lady Dai’s banner, its art and its messages. 
  • The banner is divided into four horizontal sections. In the first, Lady Dai is pictured standing on a platform, leaning on a staff, wearing an embroidered silk robe. Framing the scene are white and pink sinuous dragons, their bodies looping through a 'bi' (a disc with a hole,  representing the sky). This section is remarkable in itself, as it is the earliest example of a painted portrait of a specific individual in China.
  • In the section below this scene, sacrificial funerary rituals are portrayed in a mourning hall. Tripod containers and vase-shaped vessels for offering food and wine stand in the foreground. In the middle ground, seated mourners line up in two rows.
  •  On a mound in the  between  two rows of mourners there are the patterns on the silk that match the robe Lady Dai wears in the scene above this.
  • Lady Dai’s banner helps the modern world understand the religion she followed two millennia ago, and how artists began to represent depth and space in early Chinese painting. They made efforts to indicate depth through the use of the overlapping bodies of the mourners. They also made objects in the foreground larger, and objects in the background smaller, to create that illusion of space.Diagram of Funeral Banner of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui), 2nd century B.C.E., silk, 205 x 92 x 47.7 cm (Hunan Provincial Museum, Changsha)
  • Above and below the scenes of Lady Dai and the mourning hall, are images of heaven and the underworld. Toward the top, near the cross of the “T,” two men face each other and guard the gate to the heavenly realm. Directly above the two men, at the very top of the banner, is  a deity with a human head and a dragon body.
  • Dragons and other immortal being look down from the sky to a toad standing on a crescent moon flanks the dragon/human deity and  what looks like a three-legged crow within a pink sun. The moon and the sun are emblematic of a supernatural realm above the human world. In the lower register, beneath the mourning hall,  the underworld is painted with a red snake, a pair of blue goats, and an earthly deity, holding up the floor of the mourning hall Two giant black fish cross to form a circle beneath him. The beings in the underworld symbolize water and earth, and they indicate an underground domain below the human world. 
  • Body of Lady Dai with mourners (detail), Funeral banner of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui), 2nd century B.C.E., silk, 205 x 92 x 47.7 cm (Hunan Provincial Museum, Changsha)
  • While other mummies tend to crumble at the slightest movement, Dai is the most well-preserved ancient corpse yet to be discovered. Unlike most of the mummies found in ancient Egypt, her organs were all intact –  there was still blood in her veins—Type A. This allowed pathologists the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform an autopsy on the preserved body, 2,100 years after her death, ultimately giving us a firsthand glimpse at how the richest of the rich lived during the Han Dynast and is arguably the most complete medical profile ever compiled on an ancient individual.
  • Thanks to her luxurious lifestyle, the Marquise had osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, gallstones, liver disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. She must have been in pretty constant pain from a fused spinal disc.
  • Immediately after she was exposed to oxygen for the first time in 2,000 years, her body started to break down, which caused some of the visible decay apparent in the photograp of her mummy at the top of this blog.  Her body and belongings were taken into  the care of the Hunan Museum, where she now lies in state.

Thursday 8 February 2024

PLOT OUTLINE OR SYNOPSIS; Which do you need?

 Plotlines and Synopses 

People often get muddled when referring to the plot outline or synopsis of their story. There is a huge difference between the two. Until you are ready to market your work, don’t attempt to write a synopsis, and refrain from calling any outline you write a synopsis, even in your own head. 

 A synopsis or proposal should not be written until after the work has been completed (at least in the first draft)  – it’s the overview that other people want to see, not something that you should work from. 

Meanwhile, as you create the work, you’ll need an outline of some kind (even if you are the most avid of ‘character-led’ writers). You can call this a plotline, plot outline, plot map, story outline...whatever you like, so long as you don’t call it a synopsis!

Try this Kitchen Table Exercise 

  • 3Draw a representation of an ECG – the line your heartbeat takes electrically – on a sheet of paper. (You don’t have to be medically exact!). 
  • This pattern is also an excellent plan of a good plot.
  • Try to slot the plot of your story (short or long,) into the cardiogram.  
  • There should be peaks or climaxes, where the action and drama rise to a point, and resting phases, which are absorbing to read but allow a rest between the action. 
  • As we get to the middle of the story, the heart rate should increase, and the peaks shoot a little higher, reaching their highest point towards or at the end, just as your reader's heartbeat should increase as they 'get into' your story and begin to turn the pages faster.
  • Take a look at what you've got. Did your plot go up and down?
  • If you have to admit your story is in asystole, (a flat line), your story is as dead as the patient on the table. 
  • If it seems to have fibrillation (too fast a heartbeat), you may have too much plot and not enough character development; your reader will want ‘resting phases’ as they read, which is why the pattern has peaks and troughs.
  • NB: this is NOT your plot outline. It's an exercise to lead you into creating one.
  • Now try Creating a Map of Your Story

 Creating a Map of Your Story

A plot is not just any map; it’s a treasure map. There are instructions for the reader at the beginning, danger (or at least tension) along the journey and a wealth of satisfaction at the end. There are more ways to map your plot than there are...well...plots! 

  • Here is a list of just a few of these below:
  • Fragmentary notes that jot down the ideas as they come to you. This might include:
  • snatches of dialogue
  • descriptive passages 
  • character sketches 
  • possible themes
  • thoughts on how the story might work.
  • A designated note book, with the title of the story on the front. At first, it will contain the fragmentary notes, but as these build up, you will include further techniques, such as those listed below.
  • Diagrammatic forms might include:
  • Webmaking; jotting previous ideas (including characters and their traits) all over a large sheet of paper, then seeing how they join up.
  • Clustering; writing one phrase (or the title of the story) in the centre of a large sheet of paper, then using a ‘freewrite’ technique to create clusters of further thoughts. Each new thought comes out of a previous one, until it is exhausted. You then return to the first phrase and start again, so filling the paper. Afterwards, watch for the important clusters to jump out at you.
  • Mindmaps, which spring out of brainstorming
  • Character sketches, look for events, obstacles, opposition and conflicts to shape plot
  • Lists that you might develop as the idea developes
  • Timelines are useful, especially for longer stories or stories that use flashback a good deal. In this case, why not create a timeline of the plot and a timeline of the story (see the illustration above)
  • Index cards, where your ideas can be shuffled around in front of you
  • A pegboard or whiteboard technique, where you put things up, move things round and rub unwanted ideas out.
As you write, keep  asking:
  • What is my character’s goal and how important is it to them?
  • Who is my character’s opponent, and how much of a threat are they?
  • What are my character’s obstacles, and how am I going to space them out in the novel, so that there can be peaks and lulls in the dramatic tension?
  • Have I at least an idea about the final conflict, and how it may lead to a satisfying conclusion for my character?
Creating an Arc

However you start to gather ideas, most writers then want to pin these fragmentary thoughts to some sort of template or plotting device.  In his book Writing a Novel, Nigel Watts recommend the ‘eight point arc’, suggesting…every classic plot needs to pass through eight phases… Here are his eight points; 
  • Stasis; the base reality, and the ‘status quo’ of the story. A ‘day like any other’ (although it might also contain conflict or opposition) 
  • Trigger; an event, beyond the control of the protagonist, which turns the stasis from average to exceptional
  • The Quest; not just about fantasy; the trigger will generate the quest which may take up
    the journey of the story
  • Surprise; this is often an obstacle or conflict, but it could be pleasant; the heroine meeting the hero, for instance. A surprise definitely helps ‘middle slump’ 
  • Critical Choice; a brick wall in the protagonist’s path means they have to make decisions. This is where causality is most necessary, otherwise the story can descent into chaotic coincidence.
  • Climax; in literary theory, this is any great moment of intensity – the peak of a conflict situation. Watts give this example of the middle three phases…if the surprise is a burglar…the critical choice of the householder is self-defence, the climax is the burglar being hit over the head…
  • Reversal; a story is better for having reversal, sometimes call the peripeteia in literary theory. Watts points out…if the climax does not result in reversal, a question is raised: is there a purpose to the climax other than as spectacle? Of course, you can have spectacle in your story, but it is plot event, rather than plot development. 

  • Resolution; the completion of the plot, where a new status quo is established.
Aristotle and Freytag

It's probable that Watts developed his 8-point arc from the very first thinking on creating a structured plot. That may go as far back as Aristotle, who
 used the the term 'mythos' to denote plot and describing it as ‘the arrangement of incidents’. 

By studying Aristotle and the Greek playwrights, Gustav Freytag developed a plot pyramid in the 19th century, dividing story into five dramatic elements.

A Introduction
B Rise, or rising movement
C  Climax
D  Return or falling movement
E Catastrophe

The pyramid looks like this––   

Gustav Freytag, from Die Gartenlaube (1886)
Be aware that a plot-based triangle  does not have to have the perfect symmetry suggested above. A crisis could arrive sooner, and often arrives further on in a story.

Almost all plotting structures and methods have evolved from Freytag’s Pyramid, but over time the original terms have slightly changed, especially our approach to the ending, ‘catastrophe’, refers mostly to a dramatic tragedy, and although you may certainly be writing one of those, it’s also possible you’re aiming for a happier end. 

Nowadays, you’re more likely to see:

A) Exposition, Stasis, or Ground State
B) Complication or Inciting Incident
C) Crisis 
D) Anticlimax or reversal
R Resolution or dénouement.

However, triangles beats, point-arcs etc, are not the only way to plot. Here's three  ideas that might suit your story better; 

  1. Storyboarding. Film directors assemble a series of photographs or drawings on a storyboard, moving these pictures about, rejecting some and adding others until the relationships between them, and their relevance to the story, are clear. Writers can make storyboards in the same way. Use a large sheet of paper or new unlined notebook –use pin men if you’re not a natural artist.
  2. Start with the characters It’s an excellent idea to plot through your characters, and you can do this as you write, but the problem will arise that you won’t quite know what will happen next, and you can trail down the wrong route for a long time without realizing – although some of these trails need to happen – they are a form of plotting in themselves. You might like to look at the alternative methods of creating plot maps above, to use alongside this method.
  3. Fruitcake. Take a bowl, stir in a freewritten sentence– one that will grab you. Add handfuls of the ideas in your head – however feeble – while you continue to stir your freewrite. Pour in any of the list above of "Fragmentary notes". Feed in settings, themes, obstacles, problems, new characters, more problems and emotions. Keep writing. Add other problems. Open up to other possibilities. Keep stirring, and bake.

Finally, don't forget Cause and Effect 
Causality is a massive part of the plotting mechanism which will have a riveting effect on the plotting of your stories. Readers love to see the ‘story build up’, as events, thoughts, behaviour etc., set up in the early moments of the story, connect, build and develop the story. Causality is linked closely to the motivation and personality traits of the characters. As the plot unfolds causality results in a process of significant change which gives the reader regular emotional hits, until the conclusion is revealed. Using causality, a plot builds up from incidents that impact on one another. These incidents should not be a series of unrelated events. Causality will help you get a patterned, driven, tight plot that takes the reader on a journey via the motivation of the characters. Causality also helps you guard against implausibility; if the character’s motivation and conflicts are always directed by cause and effect, the writing will be far more believable. It is by combining causality with conflict that the strongest plot affects are gained. Conflict allows the ‘screws’ of cause and effect to tighten towards the end of the story. The reader knows all the complexities will be sorted, but they can’t for the life of them see how. A good ending will generally spring that sort of surprise; the ‘how’ of making a satisfactory and (if the author wants) happy ending, where the character has survived his ordeals, and learns and grows as a person. Using a learning/growing outcome often helps the plausibility of the story, and leads to a satisfying end, because the main character will have mostly sorted things out for himself and be responsible for most of the good outcomes. 

How is your plot going?
 Do let KitchenTableWriters know, by talking to us all through our comments page. Look forward to hearing from you! 

Monday 22 January 2024

Descriptive Writing: The Truth is in the Zoned-In Detail

The truth is in the Zoned-in Details

In her marvellous book Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says this; 

Details are what persuade us that someone is telling the truth––a fact that every liar knows instinctively and too well...what a relief it is when a detail reassures us that a writer is in control

Fiction writers need to be excellent liars. Their entire story is made up – of course it is. And it's in the descriptive details that those stories look the most convincing. It's not the Devil that's in the detail, it's where fiction appears to be its most true. 

One of the first things I learnt about describing as a writer of fiction was this, from my own tutor… although we are using words, we are stimulating pictures in a reader’s mind. 

Students of Creative Writing often find this one of the hardest things. I can’t blame them; they want to be able to jump in, feet first, and start creating something whole; making stories, working on plot, writing about action, developing their characters, saying important things to the reading world. 

They may be impatient when told that the first thing they should work on is how to describe. But have you ever read writing so vivid that you felt as if you were actually there? This is description that appeals to the senses — eyes, nose, ears, tongue or skin. The clue is in being specific. I call this ‘zoned-in detail’.

Think back to the last thing you wanted to describe in your writing. A landscape, a neighbourhood, or something smaller; a room, a piece of furniture or an artefact. How did you describe this? Did you use any detail at all? Did you use too much? 

Better to use the right details, of course, but knowing what the right details are is not an easy skill to acquire.

Chekhov was a master of description, in both his drama and in his wonderful short stories. Here's his take on what I call 'zoned-in detail'.

In my opinion a true description of nature should be very brief and have the
character of relevance. Commonplaces such as "the setting sun 
bathed the waves of the darkening sea, poured its purple gold, etc" – "The sealers flying over the surface of the water tittered merrily" – such commonplaces one ought to abandon. In descriptions of nature, one ought to sieze upon the little particulars, grouping them in such a way that, in reading, when you shut your eyes you get the picture.

I think Chekhov has put it so well. When you describe, take your time and, rather than concentrating on an overall picture, zone-in and look at some small detail that can exemplify the whole. 

Recently, I needed to describe the two oak trees that are a legend in the county of Somerset. Locally called Mog and Magog, they can be found on a country path inside a small enclosure. I tried describing them directly, but it felt flat, so I skirted around, zoned-in and tried to find the right symbolic gestures to allow the reader to 'see the oaks in their mind':

The oaks were almost leafless and white with age, and he was leaning into the further of them, his arms hugging the trunk, which was so broad it would have taken several of us to surround it completely. I rested my hand on the gnarled and weathered bark of the other tree. The day was warm, bees already buzzing in the foxgloves. A woodpecker rapped with furious persistence in the distance.

“Oh, listen,” I whispered.
         Beneath the Tor by Nina Milton
I went for the sense of sight, but also touch and hearing, and conveying the image through a person’s actions. What I was trying to avoid was information overload. Readers cannot hold an infinite number of details in their mind at the same time. If I described everything about the trees, my readers would end up sensing none of it.
The strange truth is, the more detail you chose to include, the less boring the writing becomes…moving into close-up is absorbing. On the other hand, skimming over description loses the reader and results in a lacklustre narrative line. What readers want, and love the most, are the details of life as they know it and can recognise it. A writer who can recreate the ‘commonalities’ of life so that they appear fresh and new on the page will engage and entrance their writer. Samuel Johnson said, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.

Zoned-in detail gives you the opportunity to use your descriptions to achieve other parts of the Craft of Writing. Good description will often also:
  • Reveal and differentiate places and characters
  • Enhance mood and atmosphere
  • Heighten the reader’s identification with character
  • Hint at clues to theme or outcome
  • Suggest a larger picture or background information
  • Deepen symbolism
  • Add jokes and/or moments of depth
  • Express the emotions of the narrator
  • Add extra zing to the writing by bringing the five senses onto the page.

Looking back at the six lines of description I wrote about Mog and Magog, I wonder myself if I managed any of the above. I certainly didn’t attempt much description of the trees, although later, I do a little more, using dialogue. But, was there atmosphere? Did the narrator’s own feelings come across? Could you guess a little about the man hugging the tree? Were there hints of what might come later in the story? Was there any ‘zing’?

One thing is clear; avoiding description because you don’t think you’ll do it well is not an option – it is one of the building blocks of creative writing.

So, don’t be afraid of zoned-in detail – it makes all the difference – it is the complete opposite of writing huge swathes of description that skim over detail and bore the reader to sleep. By bearing in mind that you don’t have to describe the whole thing, and looking closely at the most interesting parts of the whole, the description is enhanced. The reader won’t want to see it all – that’s like being too close to the screen in the cinema.

Next time you need to describe, remember; in you want to convince your reader of the absolute truth of your story, that truth is in the zoned-in detail.

Tuesday 2 January 2024

The Secret Life of Characters

While I was writing my quartet of crime fiction novels, all about the same character, I got too know  Sabbie Dare really well. She felt like  my sister at times.. 

Now, I love it when people reviewing the books talk about Sabbie as if she’s real, listing her faults, her hopes and fears, the things that make her tick. But I can say honestly, that I know Sabbie Dare better than any of her readers. Better than Sabbie Dare knows herself.

Creating a protagonist that will be sustained through hundreds of thousands of words of fiction will need more planning, dreaming and creating than the main character in a short story, or even the first draft of a novel, but don’t think that lets you off the character hook. 

You want your readers to be driven by emotion as they read, and in fiction it’s the characters who engage that emotion. For this to happen, the reader has to be trapped in a sort of magic…temporarily, and must believe the character is real. One hundred percent a living person, who is relating their story through words on a page. That’s the magic of fiction and it is perhaps a strong reason why people want to write and why they enroll on creative writing courses. In the past, you may have found yourself totally identifying with a compelling character in a novel, a play, or even a short story or poem, and now you too want to create such characters.

How did those previous writers do it? How did they get you to totally believe in their inventions? One route towards gaining that sort of direct link with a reader is to know your character as well as anyone; better than the character themselves.

When my protagonist, Sabbie, starts out in book one, In the Moors, I reveal that as a child she lived in a children’s home, and the social workers encouraged her to make a ‘My Story Book’ that would fill in some of the blanks in her past. In a way, I helped her stick the photos in and reluctantly write underneath them in large, misspelt capital letters. I know that she still has this scrapbook, and that she’s hidden it from herself by tossing into the loft space.

So how do you acquaint yourself well enough with your characters to fool your reader into believing they are authentic people? Picking apart the words on the page can reveal a host of useful strategies.

When I'm mentoring my writing clients, I ask them to create a history of their main character. It is tempting to dash through writing exercises  such as these quickly, without thinking too much, but I employed these ideas to help me create Sabbie Dare, and I found them wonderfully useful.

First,  chose a character if you don't already have one,  and then ask these questions

within the context of any  story you are building around them so that they grow in your mind: 

  • What do they look like?
  • What is their full name?
  • What do they like to be called?
  • Do they have a nickname?
  • How old are they?
  • What sun sign are they?
  • Who do they live with?
  • What is their relationship with these people?
  • What are their more secret feelings towards these people?
  • What is their home address?
  • Within that environment, what room or area is their favourite, where they feel most themselves?
  • What clothing and accessories do they wear and is this a conscious choice?
  • What car do they drive?
  • What car would they like to drive?
  • What is their job and where do they work?
  • Are they happy in their work?
  • What social status do they maintain?
  • Who are their friends?
  • Are there important places or possessions in their life?
  • What small details would help you discover more? Do they love animals, always watch the Six Nations?
This will help to develop them. I chose to use freewriting to do this and took on the  first person persona, because I wanted to get into Sabbie’s head and under her skin. I let each question take care of itself, often scooting wildly off the subject, letting Sabbie talk until she’d talked herself out. 

Some questions were pages long, and other barely got a nod. Here is part of my freewrite  for the first question:

Q: What moral values do they have?

A: One thing I know; where ever they came from, my ‘moral values’ didn’t come from my mum.There were times when my mother was up to being a good mum. They can’t have been frequent, but obviously they were numerous enough to keep our heads below the parapet of the social services’ gun-sights, for no one tried to take me away from a woman who was mostly out of her head. But when life smiled on Izzie Dare, she’d assume we’d behave like sisters. She’d scream at me –  ‘we are not staying in!’ as if it had been my decision to do so, zip up my pink anorak and we’d be riding a bus, with her whispering, ‘what shall we do when we get into town, Sabrina?’

She took me to the first Bonfire Night I can recall. I am very clear about this memory. I know I was in Miss Goodwin’s class, as I went up from Reception to Year One five months before my mother died, so it had to be that November the fifth. I clung to her as we watched the fireworks rain down because, although my head was filled with starry wonders, I was terrified that the explosions could hurt her. I don’t think I ever worried that things might hurt me. It was in my heart from the first that my mother was the vulnerable one.

The second exercise I underwent was to find Sabbie's Deep, Dark Secret

This is something that will lend considerable depth to a character’s qualities is to endow a secret upon them…or discover what their secret is. Not all people have deep secrets, but a surprising number do. A character with a secret is highly attractive to readers, who will read on to find out what is hidden in someone’s life, perhaps because in real life, secrets mostly stay hidden, but in fiction there is one person who is privy to the secret…the writer. So ask yourself, does your character have a secret? As before, knowing this secret may not change the way you write a story around this character...or it might change it radically. Equally, you might not include the secret in the story, or you might allow the character to hint about it, or you might make it central to the character’s motivation.

I spent some time thinking about secrets  using these  categories which you, too  can work with:

  •  Secrets of birth
  • Family secrets
  • Crimes
  • Finances, such as bankruptcy or hidden wealth
  • Love, closeted or unrequited
  • Festering hatred
  • Phobias
  • Secret connections or relationships
  • Physical problems 
  • And here are some specifics to give you further ideas...
  • The photo of Sam they never carry
  • The friend they’ll never speak to again
  • Why they can’t or won’t have children
  • The reason they never see their dad
  • Why they have a secret bank account
  • That they refused to donate a kidney to their wife
  • That they never mention 1989
  • What is under the patio/in the locked drawer

I took my time making notes, to develop the story behind the secret.

Remember – this secret may not be a main part of the story of that character – it may not be part of the story you’re telling about them at all, but it is part of their overall story and so important in the enrichment of their character…it will affect how they behave.

 By choosing two of the list given – ‘secrets of birth’ and ‘family secrets’ I was able to
develop ideas for Sabbie. I revealed that  she does not know much about her mother and nothing about her father. In book one she explains this to the reader, but in book two On the Gallows, she begins to learn some of that history, and in the third and four books of the series, Under the Tor and Through the Floodgates, this theme continues to expand. 

Don't presume that your character will not know about their secret, though – they could very well know it – they may hide it away as the dark core of their story,  they may simply not need to tell it now, or even be able to articulate it to themselves. One way or another, this secret will enable you to know more about your protagonist, than the reader.

The Shaman Mystery Series by Nina Milton, published by Midnight Ink Books is available at Amazon.