Carl and Max had a blast, driving around town on a drunken spree. Luckily, no one caught them. Like always, it would be their secret. To Carl's surprise, his boss asked, "how many signs did you run over last night?" How did he know about Carl and Max's weekend ritual?
The Open Secret - Something established as a secret between two or a small group of characters that all other supporting and background characters already know about. This technically doesn't make it a secret at all, but the characters who keep it treat it as such. Let's take Mr. Bond, for example. He's a 00 agent, right? Top secret stuff, and yet, with every single antagonist he meets, they are already aware of this fact ... and they expect him to die. Who spilled the beans?
Such a trope is common in a school setting, where everyone eventually finds out something about you that may not be true. It's hard to have a confrontation with an evil wizard in a school without a fair dose of rumors. Ain't that right, Mr. Potter?
"What happened in the dungeons between you and Quirrell is a complete secret — so, naturally, the whole school knows!"
In the popular manga and anime series, Naruto, there is a law that prohibits everyone from revealing that the demon Fox Spirit is sealed inside his body, meaning everyone but Naruto and younger knows.
"Why do I have a feeling they know something I don't?"
What can be more awkward than a secret love affair? When everyone knows about it. Just ask Lancelot and Guinevere, or Cersei from A Song of Ice and Fire (awkward), or Padmé from The Rise of Darth Vader - I mean, someone had to notice all those "secret" maternity dresses she wore (like the entire galactic senate, for example).
For both dramatic or comedic effect, The Open Secret is a fun trope to play with, but it needs to have a good reason to be out in the open. The characters might have to redefine their secret or take it to the next level and be sure no one finds out the next time - that could be easier said than done.
Ever included an Open Secret in one of your plots? What was it? How did it effect the story and its characters? What's your Open Secret?
I'm David, and having Jeff Daniels for boss would freak me out!