Wearing masks

August 15, 2009

Question for you…

When you write. Should you write as yourself?

Before you read further into this post I’ll warn you that I’m not the one with the answer.

The question came to my mind yesterday as I was writing a scene in a new short story. The story involves the abduction of a woman by a sexually deviant sociopath and by its very nature it requires some disturbing narrative. You may find this amusing, but as a budding horror writer, I’m often a little ashamed to put down on paper some of the heinous imaginings that go through my head. That’s normally why I deal in supernatural events – because I don’t usually find realistic human-on-human violence entertaining and I’m a little concerned about attaching my name to a bloody knife blade.

But now and then, as I think most horror writers would testify, a story requires – or even demands – human violence and you can do nothing about it but meekly write it down, a humble and obedient servant of the living word.

I was talking briefly to comedian a couple of weeks ago and he mentioned that he’s never afraid onstage because he’s playing a character – wearing a mask – and if the audience doesn’t approve then it’s not him they don’t approve of, but his character instead. This explained to me how many of the comedians I know can appear bold and brash on stage yet introverted and even sometimes insecure offstage.

Stage magicians too, I think, often display their art from behind masks… some of them literally of course, but even someone who appears to be just a Regular Joe may put on a subtle veneer of charm and extroversion so their patter and distraction can function as well as it needs to.

And of course we see it in politicians all the time. I might go as far as to say politics is the professional practice of donning the right mask at the right time.

So my thought for the day is this: can we writers afford the same dissociation from our own personalities in order to write things we normally wouldn’t be comfortable with? Or does our art require a level of honesty that prevents such psychological trickery?

Can we wear masks, and indeed, should we?

~CGW

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