The Big Cover Up

Yesterday I went shopping with my mom. We ended up at Belk’s in Burlington. There I overheard the most fascinating conversation between a bride-to-be and a make-up artist. The bride was at her wit’s end in preparing for the big day. She had a rather generous splash of freckles and sadly, was intent on covering them up at any cost. Every time I walked by, the make-up artist had applied yet another coat of concealer or a new kind of makeup. It was all to no avail. In the end, both bride and artist fortunately agreed that covering up those freckles would have given her skin a thick and overly-made-up appearance. She was better off letting her natural beauty shine. I’m not sure about the bride’s frame of mind as she walked away, but I can only hope she did so accepting herself the way she is.

Since then, I couldn’t help thinking about the attempt that we all make to hide our flaws, whether through cosmetics, conversation, or some other kind of subterfuge. Naturally, there’s interesting implications for every fiction writer. Just how much do you reveal about your character’s flaws? Especially in the beginning, as your reader is just getting to know him or her. We all remember that age-old adage  of “show, rather than tell” but how just much do you show?

I’m currently working on the first act of my second novel, tentatively titled: “Born Again, Dead Again.” The first act should be the easiest part, right? You’re still in the first flush of a new story, and have a bevy of new characters to introduce. Actually, it’s quite challenging. The hard part is trying to figure out how much of the character’s back story to reveal in the first few chapters. Reveal too much, and you lose your reader. Reveal too little, and you risk the same thing. It’s kind of like making a new friend. How much do you reveal about yourself in the beginning? How much do you hold back?

There’s no clear answer, that’s the mystery of human relations. For the fiction writer, the one who holds the reins of the story, there can be a lot of editing involved. In my case, it’s pulling out some of the back story and saving it for later. Sooner or later, those freckles will resurface. And curiously, it’s those freckles, the so-called flaws, that actually give your story texture and dimension.

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