Masks protect your fragile sense of self worth. They give you a way to decide how much of yourself, and which parts of yourself, you reveal to the world … The more familiar you are with your own masks and personas, the more you realize how temporary and changeable they are. Every now and again, you remove the masks covering your essence and allow yourself just to be.
The quote comes from an article titled “Unmasking Fear” by Ian Lawton which discusses our tradition of Halloween and our fascination with masks, both figurative and literal. The article offers great insight on who we are and how we show ourselves to others. Ever the writer, I thought about how this applies to my characters.
No matter how lush, lucrative, and complex your plot is, if your characters can’t carry it, your story will wither and die. Your Characters Rule the Story (another great article from a fantastic blog). They need to learn and grow and change. They need to make decisions, have relationships, experience conflict, make mistakes, and do stupid things.
Whether you’re preparing yourself for NaNoWriMo or abstaining from the insanity to work on your own goals, take another look at your characters. What masks do they wear? Does your hero wear a mask of strength and confidence despite his inner turmoil? Does your normally timid heroin put on a mask of extraversion to bring order to a chaotic situation?
Perhaps your characters wear more physical masks. Does the way he dresses hide or boast a specific feature? Does he wear a suit to seem more respectable or important? Does she wear low-cut shirts to get attention, while wearing long sleeves to hide scars?
Masks add great depth to a character and open up several new possibilities that were never there before. Try giving your character a new or different mask. How does s/he respond to it? How do other characters respond? Does it go well? Poorly? How does it affect the plot? Relationships? Conflicts?
Ian goes on to speak of what lies beyond the masks:
You let the masks slip and let someone see the real you behind all the personas. Whether in love making, or friendship, these are the precious moments of life, when you are stripped naked before another person and feel completely safe. In those moments you become one.
Whether or not you agree with the notion of being one with yourself and others, there is an undeniable sense of understanding when one opens oneself to another. What happens when your hero shows himself as indecisive or worried? Or when the heroine allows her scars to show? How does this make your characters feel and act?
Consider masks when creating, building, and assessing your characters. What masks do they wear and how does it add to their character? Furthermore, what masks do you wear? Aside: I’m thinking about crafting a mask for myself. An empty cereal box, some felt, beads, ribbon… What do you think?