Saturday, June 01, 2013

Secret Rooms

Imagine discovering your home contained a secret room that you never knew existed -- that just happened to Reddit user mYNDIG, who posted photos of it here. Other Reddit users speculate the space was used as a radio room or even to hide people during WWII (and to me the one little doll shoe strongly suggests the latter.)

I love reading about stories like this, probably because the secret room is one of my favorite elements in fiction. It first scared the daylights out of me when I read Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, and again when I discovered what Miss Emily was hiding in one of her rooms in Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. Rob Thurman's latest Cal Leandros novel, Slashback, has a scary secret room in the backstory, and Robin Cook used an ancient secret room (as well as a unique way of hiding it) as the hub of the entire plot of Sphinx. There can be more than one secret room in a story, too; I have three of them in my novel Night Lost, and Stephen King famously packed an entire hotel to the rafters with them in The Shining.

The secret room to me has always worked best as a subtle metaphor as well as a physical setting. The triumvirate of secret rooms in Night Lost are not simply places; they embody the changes that occur during the dual journey of the protagonists as they progress from being lost and alone to finding each other in three acts (thus three rooms.) The secret room can also work as a metaphor for the true self, a double life, the chains of the past or the doorway to a new future -- it's all in how you use it.

If you'd like to play with the secret room as a story element, here are some writing exercises to try:

Create a secret room in one of your character's homes that hides something important (good or bad) to your character. First describe the room as a setting, and then write a short scene in which your character discovers it.

Write a flash fiction story in which a secret room is a main character -- either as a protagonist or an antagonist.

Describe a secret room that embodies this saying: One man's trash is another man's treasure.

Tell the story of the discovery of a secret room from the room's POV.

Now it's your turn: What's your favorite secret room story? Let us know in comments.

6 comments:

  1. Growing up I had dreams all the time that there was another room behind my closet, sometimes it was tiny, sometimes huge. I think it stemmed from a fascination with the Narnia books, finding new worlds beyond ordinary objects.

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    1. You and I would have been great playmates as kids, Jodi. I was absolutely convinced every tree was a gateway to the fairy world; only none of ours were hollow. ;)

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  2. The Secret Garden isn't really a room, I know, but it's the same basic idea... and I love that book. Also, for secret rooms inside secret rooms inside a sentient (?) house, which may be one of the creepiest/strangest/most frightening reads, Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves.

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    1. I'll have to try out that one, Liz; thanks for the rec.

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  3. Another Slashback fan waving her hand here.

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    1. Shameless you are, you Thurman fan girls. Oh, wait, I'm one, too. Ha.

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