We do love our secrets and the strangers in our heads.

The mysterious Boo Radley talks to Scout in a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.
The mysterious Boo Radley talks to Scout in a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.

IT’S ALWAYS the same.

We writers hardly ever change.

We mostly write about strangers.

We haven’t met them.

We don’t know they exist until they walk on one of our pages.

They usually show up when we least expect them.

We certainly didn’t know they were on the way.

A stranger comes to town with a gun.

A stranger dies.

A stranger buries him.

The stranger has a secret?

The stranger disappears.

Which one?

Doesn’t matter.

‘They’re all strangers anyway.

A stranger finds a woman.

Sometimes the stranger is a woman.

Two strangers meet.

Two strangers fall in love.

By now, they aren’t strangers anymore.

They are family.

And, generally, if we write their stories well, they are a dysfunctional family.

Some strangers search for the spotlight.

Some strangers remain in the shadows.

The quiet strangers, the strangers with nothing to say, they are the most intriguing strangers of all.

As John Wayne always said: “When a scene in a motion picture has three characters, the one who doesn’t say anything is the most interesting person in the room.”

Who is he?

What’s he thinking?

Is he important?

Is he dangerous?

What’s he hiding?

Why doesn’t he say something?

Can he solve the mystery?

Is he the mystery?

Don’t know.

He’s a stranger to me.

In great stories, we know his name.

We know what he looks like.

We know how he dresses.

We even know his backstory.

But do we really know him? Do we really know her?

Those characters whose pasts remain cloaked in the unknown are the ones we remember long after the story ends.

In Casablanca, it is Rick the saloon keeper, tough talking, tough acting, but with a sentimental side he didn’t want anyone to know about. Why is he there? Why won’t he leave? Will he fight to the bitter end?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, it is Boo Radley. He’s locked himself away. He’s a recluse. He hides from the town. Is he crazy? Is he dangerous? Is he a threat? He is the man everyone talks about but few ever see.

In Shane, it is Shane, the outsider who rides into town as a mystery and rides out the same way. Was he a gunfighter? Was he a lawman? Is he on the run? Who’s chasing him? Will he ever find love. Is he even looking for love.

In Kill Shot, it’s Jack Reacher. He shows up. He’s big. He’s lethal. His secret is more dangerous than he is. We sense it. We know. We have no idea what his secret is. Reacher is an enigma when he arrives. He’s an unsolved puzzle when he leaves.

We don’t know where he’s going.

But we want to tag along.

He’s nothing more than a stranger, but we do love our strangers.








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