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?
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
heroes, masks allow us to hide who we are as well. At best, they give us
freedom. A chance to have fun and misbehave. At worse, 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 The Lord of
the Flies by William Goldberg, 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:
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? Why? 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?
by Mia Botha
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Mia Botha facilitates for Writers Write. She is also a novelist, a ghost writer, and the winner of the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa Competition. When she isn’t writing, she is the mother of two children and the wife of a very lucky man. Follow Mia on Pinterest and Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter
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