To preview the novel, we introduce and briefly describe the major characters—as in a play or historical fiction: their identities, descriptions and backgrounds—encouraging the reader to anticipate how they might think and act. In fact, it is that sense of expectation—and inevitability—that epitomizes effective character-driven fiction.
Indeed, the reader would want to know basic details of characters’ lives: their appearance, ethnicity, origins, jobs, schools, marital status, hobbies, interests, achievements—struggles and failures too; offered here in thumbnail sketches:
Harold Savitt: 30-ish bachelor originally from Long Island, N.Y.; Columbia graduate; Russian-Jewish ancestry; failed at medical and advertising careers; now associate editor at a small publishing company; devotee of Chinese Face Reading and Kung Fu Martial Arts. (Resembles actor Seth Green.)
Carlos Morales: Also single; Harold’s former Columbia roommate from North Jersey; aspiring writer; star performer at ad agency where Harold failed; Cuban-American ancestry; appears super suave and macho. (Resembles actor Eric Estrada.)
Trish Donlon: 30-ish, single, Manhattanville grad with law degree; fashion consultant with “the perfect nose” and “a fast Irish mouth”; from Bronx, N.Y. (Resembles actress Maureen O’Hara; dresses haut couture.)
Jennifer Santoramo: Trish’s former college friend; now her subordinate in fashion; aspires to use her psychology background; Italian-American from Wethersfield, Ct.; fluent in Italian. (Resembles actress Monica Bellucci; also a fashion dazzler.)
Paul Wallach: Harold’s uncle; same ethnicity; studied Chinese and international politics at Columbia; mini-career in advertising before becoming a periodontist in N.J. (Resembles actor Alan Arkin.)
Charles Wu; former schoolmate of Paul; originally from Taiwan; now a professor at Columbia’s East Asian Library; also schoolmate of Van Lear who became a CIA agent.
(Signature outfit: 3-piece suits from Dunhill.)
Vandersloot “Van” Lear: American descendant of English and Dutch gentry; Princeton grad; attended Columbia School of International Affairs in the 1960’s; fluent in Russian and Chinese; still tracks Chinatown gangsters and Chinese Intelligence for the CIA. (Favors Russian tunics and Burburry trench coats.)
Ma-Chang-Kuo: single; graduate of Shanghai University; cinematographer currently running digital-re-creation lab at South California University; familiar with Chinese Face Reading; his parents in Shanghai under surveillance and not allowed to travel while he stays in US. (Sports cowboy boots and “bad” ties.)
Hoda Bahur Ramsis: Married, Egyptian-born former schoolmate of Trish and Jennifer; now Associate Egyptologist at Metropolitan Museum of Art; speaks English, Arabic and Coptic; her uncle, curator at Cairo Museum, guards secrets of the Pharaohs which he can impart to Hoda. (Resembles busts of Nephertiti; work attire: Egyptian headdresses.)
Why this cast of characters? The author’s intention was not to present a veritable United Nations of stick figures representing ethnic diversity or characters that symbolize a range of role players; but instead to construct composites of actual people whose individual personalities were among the most striking and memorable I encountered in my educational, personal and working life of 11 years in New York—that most cosmopolitan of cities.
If writers should write what they know, my New York years provided an accelerated course in a life study of humanity (and its many faces) from which I developed a particular multicultural worldview. What exactly do I mean by that? The real-life characters that became my models for fiction always spoke, inescapably, and authentically from their own ethnic and religious particularity.
The novel is very conversational—typical in novels of ideas—although what may seem as essayistic statements by characters is not intended to convey the author’s message or philosophy but a to replicate a realistic thought process and conversation that seemed logical, intuitive and natural in an exchange of ideas between those characters in those circumstances.
This is a story of singles meeting in social and business situations seeking personal and business goals. Our high-tech world of advanced electronic communications is not meant to overshadow their human needs as in Deus ex Machina. Rather, if there is a message (common in science-based novels), it is that technology can only reflect, or at best, enhance human ingenuity and creativity, but not surpass or replace it.
In dramatizing the scientific importance of the human face—exemplified in both facial analysis and facial imagery—the characters in Faces Tell All are not merely foils for a higher technological truth or intelligence, but are active players in the human existential dilemma: how to fit in and work together while gaining acceptance and significance as individuals.
Although backstory and detailed descriptions are useful, especially in fleshing out characters’ personalities and motivations, what is more immediate, convincing and engaging—good screen plays do this wonderfully well—is to have the writing show, not tell; that is, have a character exhibit traits, like selfishness, anger or fear rather than have the reader told by another character or a narrator that the character is behaving that way.
So when readers visualize the specifics of the characters’ emotions, they are more involved, want to learn more, and are driven by their own expectations, reactions and conclusions—not those of the narrator.
The characters’ faces are central to the action. Faces Tell All describes characters’ appearance and expressions in exquisite detail, in keeping with its theme of faces and body language technology; but also because so much of the action is conversational, wherein faces would be highly animated and expressive.
Yes, faces and appearance often speak louder than words. Mime, an art form in itself, has an enduring appeal. Think how expressive silent film actors had to be; in that primitive era of cinema, to convey emotion and intention, directors and actors, ironically, had to depend more on that indescribably complex and nuanced non-verbal language that marks us as an advanced species.
(Of course, as previously noted, casting directors have always chosen actors for the personality traits they manifest and because their facial and physical types suggest such qualities as: aggressiveness, power or potency, authority, magnificence or nobility, elegance or refinement, but also, contrarily: cuteness or adorableness, frailty, meekness, passivity, and even blandness, “average” and “everyman” qualities. This would include their resemblance to animals that convey qualities, for example, of bullishness or predation on one hand and sheepishness and docility on the other.)