The pen is mightier than the sword, but the imagination is more powerful than the pen. It is how we can hear characters in a book speak with their own voices despite reading in our own minds. It is also why can create perfect images of characters without any detailed descriptions. But where should a writer draw the line between telling us what someone looks like and allowing us to put the pieces together ourselves?
Description VS Imagination
Throughout history, there have been stories revolving around characters who have never revealed their face. I'm not talking about super hero's wearing masks in one instance and going Clark Kent the next, I'm talking about characters who have never been physically described. These characters are mysterious in many ways, and it's easy to conclude that they owe their strength as a character or personality to the fact that the power of their presence lies in the minds of the readers. Boba Fett or the Mandalorian, for example, were the result of such a successful mystery. The entire concept of a mercenary who never took off his helmet was a huge hit. Years later, both Boba and Din Djarin return with their own tv-show... where they take off their legendary helmets. Responses to this have been mixed all over the globe. Some applauded it because it finally gave a human edge to the otherwise mysterious characters. Others hated it because it ruined the established picture people had inside their minds. Through years and years of imagining what was going on underneath that helmet, it was suddenly very difficult to let go of that image because of the reveal. And understandably so: what would you do if, after years of not having seen her, your sister walks into the room, tears her face off, and reveals that the way you remember her is 100% incorrect. You would be shocked, too.
A risky trend
Today, we see a big trend when it comes to revealing characters that have been shrouded by mystery for years. Think of The Mandalorian, Jaqen H'Ghar (Game of Thrones) , Navi (legend of Zelda), and another big name in this game is Master Chief from 343's Halo. Since 2001 (back then still produced by Bungie), Master Chief has NEVER taken off his helmet in a way that allowed us to see his face. However, earlier this week, IGN announced in one of their articles that Paramount is about to change the game with their TV-series. Master Chief is, after 20 years, about to reveal his face. The responses so far? Mixed. The exact same thing that happened to Boba Fett is about to happen to the Chief. People spent 20 years, imagining----through narration, through animation, through behavior and voice work---what Master Chief, A.K.A. John 117, looks like. Again, imagine your sister taking off her face... well, you get the point.
“I think we set out to tell a character story and a personal story,” she said. “And once we really got into what that story was, it became clear that you really needed to see the person in the armor and under the helmet.” --- Kiki Wolfkill, 343 Industries
However, looking at the argument given by 343's Kiki Wolfkill, the reason behind the reveal is actually pretty solid. It's all about investment. About stepping away from the projection of our mind to create something more solid. And although it's true that it's easier to invest in a character when the content is based on something that takes place in our imagination, when it comes to turning that imagination into a visual reality, it's pretty important to give us something to bond with. And let's be honest, it's easier to bond with a character if we can look him/her in the eyes, than by looking at a reflective screen inside a helmet (what is it with characters and their helmets nowadays, anyway?)
To reveal or not to reveal...
Coming back to the writing industry, the choice authors must make is a difficult one. Should the reader be given the space to create his/her own image of the characters, or should the author set boundaries? What is the effect of (not) knowing what a character looks like, and is it important to the story? I, for one, have always been the kind of author who sets certain boundaries. I like having my readers know what my characters look like. If you haven't noticed yet, I even draw them out. So for me, the visuals of a character are very important. However, should Sovren (the main character of The Singularian Grimoire Anthologies) suddenly walk in, tear his face off, and show me that he looks different, I would most certainly feel very uncomfortable. Therefore, my advice is, and will always be to ask yourself this: Does my character need a face? Or does my character fare well on the mystery of not having one? Whatever you choose, remember that leaving out one aspect puts more pressure on the others. Without a face, movements, the way someone speaks, or even the way they handle things, become more and more important to create a dimensional character. It is up to you to decide what your character needs.
What do you think? Let's get a conversation going in the comments below!
Tags: #halo #HaloTheSeries #MasterChief #BobaFett #StarWars #reveal #style #mystery #trends #paramount #spoilers #bungie #writing #WritingCommunity #scifi #amwriting #fantasy #tvshow #GoT #GameofThrones #IGN