I’m sure it comes as no surprise that a person’s public face is not the same as who they are in private. The same should hold true for characters in fiction. Merciless crime-fighters are loving parents and spouses when in the comfort of their own homes. The bubbly socialite may prefer to curl up on the couch with a glass of red and a movie when they’re not out making friends with strangers. Often the starkest contrast between the public and private spheres (to borrow the terms from last year’s History class) is when a character is alone with his or her love interest.
A usually loud and brash character may become quiet and gentle, or a closed-off character may become cuddly and affectionate. I myself am a bit of the latter, as I’ve noticed in the past few days when with my boyfriend. The growth of a relationship in my own life has led to me thinking deeper about my characters’ relationships, how pre-existing personality traits will behave when combined with complimenting or clashing traits belonging to the love interest.
Darian, the protagonist of Coldfire (a novel which is also known as my incredibly ill-tempered yet lovable baby), is generally sarcastic and composed when around other people, but due to personal problems is rarely as controlled when alone. As his relationship with his love interest (Valora) grows, I need to think about how his private self is going to manifest when with her. As it currently stands, Darian is often not himself when around her. His sharp tongue loses its edge and he regularly feels wrong-footed. Valora is also incredibly sexual and physical while Darian is more of a thinker. Will he temper her, or will she drag him kicking and screaming out of his barbed shell?
It pays to put some thought into your character’s public and private personas, as they become more rounded and fascinating for it. Superheroes are the most extreme version of a separation between the two. Superman is brave and noble when he dons the underwear and tights, but he always the bespectacled, awkward Clark Kent during his off hours. So who is your character when nobody is watching? Who are they when the only person is watching is, quite often, the most important person in his or her life?