I read Frank Peretti’s classic thriller This Present Darkness and C.S. Lewis’s delightfully British The Screwtape Letters in seventh grade. Both excellent books, but my overactive imagination might not have needed a double-dose of supernatural fiction. Because from that point on, I decided that I wanted to outsmart Satan.
One thing that was very comforting to me was that demons, unlike God, can’t know the future and can’t read minds. For the first time, I was thinking about spiritual warfare, which is good, I guess, but I thought about it in a very immature way.
One of the most bizarre ways I put this new awareness into action was by trying to keep secrets from Satan.
You see, like most jr. high girls, I kept a journal, a place to dump those angsty jr. high emotions. (I filled up maybe a dozen pages. I wasn’t super emotional. Puberty treated me well in that regard.) As far as journals go, it’s pretty typical: bad handwriting, a few rants after a horrible day, ridiculous spellings. But never the name of a guy I had a crush on.
This is, of course, the cliché subject of teenage diaries, and everyone expects to see long, melodramatic drivel about “that guy who sits in front of me in U.S. History.” Or at least cartoon hearts and initials in the margin.
Not in my journal. In fact—and the jr. highers currently in my small group usually don’t believe this one—throughout my teenage years, I never told anyone, not even my twin sister, who I had a crush on. Not once.
And part of the reason why was because I wanted to pull one over on the demons.
The thought was, what they don’t know can’t tempt me. One time in eighth grade, I distinctly remember forcing my heart rate down when a certain guy walked by, just in case Satan could monitor that.
No, I’m not joking. This was really my logic. Little did I know that my entire childhood was a walking blog post content generator.
Thankfully, this was a phase that only lasted a year or two. Looking back on it now, of course, it’s ridiculous. Because even if there were a bunch of unobservant demonic slackers hovering around me, they probably had better things to work on if they wanted to tempt me or exploit my weaknesses. Like maybe my pride, since I thought I could be smarter than the devil himself and had the arrogance to assume that an entire fleet of demons was intensely interested in my personal life.
Now, this blog post is not endorsing any kind of view on spiritual powers. Unless you want your expert on that subject to be a quirky twelve-year-old.
The point is, if you’re a writer, it can help to view your characters like twenty-one-year-old Amy. Your readers are demons (sorry, the analogy just worked out this way). If your characters have secrets, you, as the author, know them and have an objective viewpoint on them. You could describe every secret and thought and grudge and irrational fear in detail right from the very beginning.
But don’t. Pretend that your characters are paranoid and don’t want the reader-demons to know what those secrets are or why they’re doing something or how they feel about another character.
Of course, readers, being intelligent and good observers (much like I assume demons are), will probably notice little things about your characters that give all of those things away, or at least hint that something’s up. If you’ve ever read a book where you suddenly figured out that a “good guy” is actually evil, or realized in a flash of inspiration the hidden motive behind something the hero did, you know how fun that can be.
So don’t give away all of the interesting things about your character by just telling the readers everything, either in dialogue or backstory. Report details and hints, but let the readers figure it out for themselves.