I’ve been thinking a lot about faces lately, not so much physical faces as the “faces” we wear. Not a new theme, I think, but something I ran into a lot lately, between the writer’s conference and looking up people online afterwards–the difference between the face one presents to other people, in person, versus the face one presents online.
While I was at the conference, I ran into some people who had distinctly different personas:
One woman lacked confidence in person–but had survived a terrible personal tragedy with grace.
One man laughed constantly–but had been recently divorced and dwelled on it constantly and humorlessly online.
One woman presented herself as needy and impatient in person–but was a kind of guru on the Internet.
At first I thought, “Ah, these people are more likely to be honest in person than they are online.” Then I had to reconsider. I mean, I don’t know any of them well. Maybe they’re more honest online than they are in person. Or maybe they aren’t honest at all. Or–in some way–both sides are honest.
Why not? I am both funny and shy. I love both horror* and uplifting love stories. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what tied the stories together for me was pain and how we have to hide it in certain situations but still need to have somewhere to express it.
Maybe the trick is to pull all the faces together.
Anyway, how do these faces affect characters in books?
The two-faced character is proverbially a bad egg, someone who gains the main character’s trust and then stabs her in the back. But a two-faced character can also be a character in disguise: a hero with a secret identity. Westley in Princess Bride.** Or a two-faced character can be a bad character who acquires (or rediscovers) a heart.
So making a character two-faced might not be an entirely bad thing: you end up with a more rounded character. Even a traitor has to have something good in them…or they’d never be able to act trustworthy enough to screw the main character over.
*Not so fond of the terror.
**Speaking of two-faced characters–in the features for Princess Bride, the actors reveal that Andre the Giant had put his back out and couldn’t lift anything, had practically lost his strength. The stunts were done with ropes.