Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post, we write about why masks reveal more than they conceal.
What would your protagonist wear for Halloween?
What do Tutankhamen, Zorro, and Batman all have in common? They all wore masks. Granted, Tutankhamen’s most famous mask was worn posthumously, but he did wear a fake beard while he was alive. Just like Santa – the fake one in the mall, not the real one. The real one obviously has a real beard.
Even today, we wear masks. The most common celebration of masks for most of us is Halloween. The costume or mask you choose to wear reveals a lot about you. It allows you to express a part of your personality that you usually hide or repress.
The history of masks
We have been wearing masks and costumes for centuries. Death masks, fertility masks, funeral masks, plague masks.
- We wear outfits and masks to keep us safe – consider the hazmat suits worn by doctors and aid workers in West Africa.
- We wear them as disguises – think of bank robbers or actors.
- We wear them for occupational reasons – consider welders, astronauts and firemen.
- We wear them for sports – think ice hockey and American football.
- We even wear them for punishment – think of muzzles, a la Hannibal Lector. Ok, there might be a debate about punishment or pleasure in some circles. For me, it would be punishment.
Can you see how I am revealing myself?
Superheroes, as an example, wear masks to hide their identity. Those masks change their behaviour.
- Peter Parker is awkward and fumbling, but add the suit, and he turns into a web-slinging-swinging-villain-fighting machine.
- Clark Kent is a super geek, but Superman is well, super. Masks and costumes allow us to have alter egos.
Like superheroes, masks allow us to hide who we are as well. At best, they give us freedom. A chance to have fun and misbehave. At worst, they give us distance from our responsibilities and ourselves. We no longer hold ourselves accountable. Everyday women wear make-up to change, improve or conceal appearances. Think of how far Renée Zellweger took that.
In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the boys paint their faces. This allows them to set their animalistic natures, their ‘beasts’, free. In Phantom of the Opera, Erik wears a mask to hide a deformity.
As writers, we reveal much of ourselves in our work. We hide behind our characters; we live lives different to our own. It seems the more we try to hide, the more we show. We choose our characters as we choose our masks; to live a different life. We write to escape. Why do you get dressed up for Halloween? To stay home and stay sober? I think not. Consider this quote from Oscar Wilde:
Source for Quote
Think back to your past Halloween costumes or think about the last fancy dress party you attended.
- Why did you choose that particular costume?
- What were you trying to say or not say?
- In your fifteen-year-old-Goth-phase, what did you choose to wear?
- In your awkward shy twenties did you dress as a sexy librarian or a warrior woman?
These decisions tell us a lot about where you were at that time of your life.
Use this to explore your characters.
- What masks or costumes would your characters choose to wear?
- What did they wear five years ago?
- Have they ‘progressed’ or are they still the same get-drunk-every-Friday-night-university-kids they were a few years back?
- Did your character wear the same costume for four years straight?
What we hide and what we think we hide are closely related.
What mask do you wear? What mask does your character wear?
Top Tip: Use our Character Creation Kit to create great characters for your stories.
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