Four Faces


“The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.”

— Unknown


One might call them faces, or perhaps one might call them masks, a topic I’ve already delved into before:

We all wear masks. We laugh at jokes that aren’t funny and alter our personalities to fit in with whatever group is surrounding us at the time. I envisioned a masquerade ball. Everybody around me wore beautiful, light-weight masks of satin and sequence, brightly colored and innocent. My mask was made of iron and was slowly suffocating me. I think for many people, the mask they wear is who they want to be, who they pretend to be. Who they are is inside. In my case, it was the opposite. I felt like who I was was that mask, and all I wanted to do was shed that skin.

Read the full post “Welcome to the Masquerade” here.

This unknown quote about the three faces embedded itself in my mind like barbs. The more I pondered it, the more entranced I was by how it could relate to writing, although I would propose that we actually have four faces: the face the world sees, the face your friends and family see, the face you adorn in the privacy of solitude, and the face that is your own perception of yourself — a face no one else can ever witness.

How can this be applied to writing? In my never-ending endeavor to better myself as a writer, I am constantly reevaluating my characters. In my early days as a novice, I felt my characters lacked variety, and so I focused my attention on giving them unique qualities and backstories. I examined their speech patterns, their dialects, their vocabulary, their attitudes, their values, their motives. I became a reporter and explored how different characters would respond to the same question. And as a result, they evolved from cardboard cutouts to individuals that were real enough to, in many cases, talk without even needing a tag to identify which character had spoken.

Now, I’m looking at their “faces,” or layers. How does my councilwoman’s demeanor shift from when she’s sitting at her desk alone in her office to when she’s standing in front of a microphone facing a crowd of people? Then put her with her family, and we should get a different picture of her again. How does her thought process change? Tone of voice? In solitude, is she less confident with her decisions than she is with an audience? How does she conceal her vulnerabilities?

Writers can develop “faces” with a plethora of tools ranging from facial expressions, to actions and split-second decisions, to opinions, to a character’s innermost thoughts and worries. Consider how the observable reactions that other characters can witness might reinforce or juxtapose internal reactions that only the reader and the character herself are privy to.

It’s easy to focus on one or two faces, but in reality, each face is another facet, and neglecting the others will only limit the dimensions of the character. The goal is to make your characters as realistic and relatable as possible. Peel back their layers and see what the faces look like underneath that outermost mask.