How To Write Better & More Believable Masquerades


No, this isn't about masquerade balls. It's about masquerades as in the whole trope where fantastic beings of some kind are living right under the noses of ordinary people. The trope can be a ton of fun - it allows us to imagine that there's a whole other world of fantastic excitement going on right under our noses. We can look at a crowd of people and picture that any number of them might secretly be vampires with secret vampire plans. Or we can look at an old building and imagine that if you perform the right spell at midnight on the full moon, a door will open to the otherworldly glade where the faeries convene to discuss their plans. We can imagine that witches and wizards conduct business in a hidden alley we just can't see. In other words, it ignites our imaginations and encourages us to see our own world in a whole new light.

But a masquerade needs a reason to exist, whether that reason is rational or irrational. Keeping secrets is hard, especially when a lot of people are in on it. And depending on how the writer handles them, they can have some extremely insensitive implications about real people. So this article is going to explore how you can write believable masquerades and handle them in a way that's respectful to real life people.

Last revision: January 2, 2020.

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Think about their motives for staying hidden.

A common and usually very solid reason fantastic people (henceforth to be referred to as 'supernaturals,' though this isn't to say that you couldn't have non-supernatural beings in a masquerade, EG, androids) stay hidden is to avoid coming into conflict with everyone else. The potential danger could range from long-term persecution to total annihilation. Those who believe that their friends and family would be in danger if word gets out will be willing to take their secrets to the grave and will support finding and punishing leakers.

Of course, the question here is how justified and rational their fears are versus how much they're simply based in xenophobia. This is largely up to you to decide - but there are a couple of things to keep in mind: If they lack systemic power and wouldn't be able to do much if people decided to turn on them, then their fears are definitely reasonable. If they have enough power or political influence that nobody could actually do much of anything to them, then it's just xenophobia.

Another possible reason they might keep themselves hidden is that they're otherworldly researchers who don't want to disrupt the creatures or environment they're studying.

If they feel safe and comfortable among regular people, and have no ethical qualms or higher directives stopping them from outing themselves, then they have no reason to hide. People prefer being themselves as much as possible; nobody hides things just for the heck of it.

Now we gotta talk about some motives that are just plain bad. The first is maintaining a masquerade for the purpose of long-term political manipulation. Any time you portray an entire group of people who would be considered weird, foreign, or unnatural by mainstream society as supporting or engaging in political manipulation like this, you are echoing centuries' worth of antisemitic paranoia and/or other baseless xenophobia. The mere act of asking your audience to accept that this level of deep conspiracy is possible in your world invites them to consider the possibility that it's happening in our world, too. And because it's nearly always ultimately Jewish people (sometimes it's another racial and/or religious minority) who are implicated in conspiracy theories of this nature, there is no way you can spin this so that it doesn't have xenophobic implications.

Keep in mind that when political infiltration and manipulation happens in real life, it's not masterminded by some kind of shadowy secret cabal. Instead, it's done by large and powerful governments, by well-supported political movements, or by extremely wealthy organizations or individuals who can entice politicians with their money. (And the wealthy types aren't playing a long game so much as trying to maintain their power and privilege in the here and now. Greed is always very short-sighted.) Political infiltration and manipulation are not perpetrated by people with little to no power in society. If they're not powerful or popular enough to be influential in the open, they aren't powerful or popular enough to be influential in the shadows, either.

Another bad reason I've occasionally seen is that the masquerade exists to protect everyone else from supernatural harm. It's nonsensical for multiple reasons. First of all, ignorance won't stop people from wandering into magical danger by accident. Secondly, if the purpose of keeping them ignorant is to "protect" them from a law mandating that anyone who discovers the secret must be executed, all they're being "protected" from is a law that was probably passed out of prejudice or fear toward outsiders - basically, you've got a "segregation is for your own good" kind of deal. Thirdly and finally, it requires us to believe that these people would willingly make life a lot more complicated and inconvenient for themselves just for the benefit of an outgroup.

I've also seen a few writers try to justify this with "people deserve to live normal lives." The problem is, normality is a social construct, and to imply that magic is inherently abnormal when it's an intrinsic part of the universe makes no sense. What they're really just saying is that the general public deserves to live in their manicured and socially-engineered comfort zones. But history proves time and time again that letting people live in cozy, manicured comfort zones allows harm to be perpetuated against people who don't fit their concept of what's "normal." Karen and Kyle Suburbanson don't deserve to live a "normal" life at the expense of people they would consider "abnormal." On the other hand, if the general public were accustomed to magic and magical beings, it would be normal to them and they'd get on just fine.

Some people also claim that no one breaks the masquerade because they all know that they'll be punished by those in charge. While the threat of punishment might deter some people, it must be noted that authoritarian rulership causes stress and breeds resentment, and can motivate people to break the masquerade out of spite or just wanting to escape somewhere. Additionally, rules can't stop revealing mistakes from being made now and then.

And one last bad reason is that others aren't "ready" to know about magic yet. The rationale is that if everyone else had access to magic, they would use it to exploit and oppress each other. One problem here is that it overlooks or even outright dismisses the option of giving magic to people who are oppressed and exploited so they can fight back. If this option is considered and denied and the decision is framed as just, then the story is effectively saying that marginalized and oppressed people either don't deserve the chance to empower and liberate themselves, or that if they did, they would immediately oppress everyone else. Neither implication is a good look. And of course, appointing oneself the arbiter of what people are and aren't allowed to know about the very world they live in is paternalistic at best and at worst in violation of Right To Know.

Of course, it's possible the supernaturals (or at least, the ones in charge) use the last three justifications to excuse their xenophobic or apathetic attitudes toward outsiders. This could even be a source of conflict in your story.


Consider the exposure risk.

If you want to keep your masquerade up indefinitely, you need a reasonably low exposure risk. As a general rule, the smaller, simpler, and less flashy things are, the more believable it is that they could stay hidden for a long time. Individual risk factors to consider are:

How often do they come into contact with regular people? The less time they spend around others, the fewer chances they'll have to expose themselves, accidentally or no. The more time they spend, the more likely they are to say or do something that gives them away, accidentally leave behind evidence of some kind, or become so emotionally entangled with someone that they can't bear to keep the truth a secret anymore.

But spending too little time in regular human society can increase their odds of exposure, too. If they have to spend any time in it but don't know how to blend in or get around, they'll stick out like sore thumbs. Maybe one or two odd appearances here or there would be written off as a single eccentric, but if a lot of them get spotted them people will start asking questions.

How many of them are there? The more of them there are, the more likely it is that someone will leave behind evidence or let something slip. Consider: If there are a million of them and there's even just a one in ten thousand chance that any of them might massively goof up just once, then on average there'd be a hundred major incidents. Yikes!

How many potential witnesses are there? The more people there are around to witness them doing something strange or to find evidence of their activity, the greater the risk of being discovered. Remember, if there's a million of them and a one in ten thousand chance of any one of them being discovered, then on average you'd have a hundred of them getting found out. Assuming this is the statistics for a single year, the average time between discoveries would be approximately every three and a half days.

What kind of evidence can others find and share? The weirder and more obvious their activities and the evidence they leave behind is, the greater the likelihood is that they'll be found out. Mages who go around doing big flashy spells in places where non-magical people live will definitely be witnessed, and good luck trying to keep word about it from getting around in an era when people can record the video on their cellphones and upload it to YouTube or Twitter in minutes. If vampires are constantly leaving behind exsanguinated bodies with double puncture wounds on their necks, whoever deals with the dead bodies or investigates murders is going to notice and most likely keep notes, if not whole files. Same goes if werewolves are are all the time shifting where people can see them. If this happens all over the country, lots of people will be noting and keeping tabs on the exact same thing, and eventually people are going to swap stories.

Do they have any unusual items they might accidentally leave around? Letting even one history book or magical artifact fall into certain hands could end up unraveling the whole thing. Small magical items or gadgets, personal accessories, and paper ephemera are easy to drop or misplace. If they generate a lot of trash that's obviously unusual, that'll also be easy to find.

Do they have anything that could be seen from the air? Since the launch of Google Earth in 2005, the better part of the planet has become visible to the human eye. People have found a herd of elephants, a car that had been underwater for twenty two years, a bunch of ancient land art in Northern Kazakhstan, and fifty ancient monuments in Ireland. It would only be a matter of time before people started finding any castles or dragons they were trying to hide.

How well they can clean up after themselves? Some stories give them magic they can use to get rid of any trace that they were ever there - whether that means erasing or rewriting people's memories, fixing their collateral damage, or whathaveyou. But while that might work for some situations, it's important to remember that it won't necessarily work for all of them. The more crowded or densely populated a place is, the less likely it is that you can track down all the witnesses. Memory-altering spells won't be of much help when a dozen witnesses have already uploaded videos to YouTube or Twitter where they'll be viewed by hundreds, maybe even thousands of people within hours.

And one thing we gotta talk about here is how trying to kill witnesses isn't necessarily a good idea. Killing the odd person here and there in a way that looks like an accident or random mugging can work, sure. But strange or unusual deaths, or the deaths of important or well-known people will attract a lot of attention. The murder of an entire family, a torn up body, or the sudden death of a politician or celebrity are all the kinds of things that make national, if not international news. On the other hand, the kinds of people who could be killed without too many people caring are also the kinds of people whom society is the least likely to take seriously.

What's more, even if the police are unable or unwilling to get involved, it doesn't mean others won't try. Friends and family of the deceased might hire private detectives if they can, or possibly even try to reach out to supernatural hunters if they exist. Or they might just band up together and take action themselves. People with an interest in the weird and the unsolved might take notice, and even if they don't personally do anything about it they might bring it up and talk about it in Internet communities for other people interested in weird and unsolved things. While it might be easy to imagine that all of these people are nothing more than losers with no lives, the reality is that many people like this are anything but.

But don't forget - it's possible to make them too good at cleaning up after themselves. It's hard to take the threat of discovery seriously if we know they have powerful reality-altering magic that can restore the status quo with little effort, and depending on their reasons for hiding you might have to wonder why they bother staying hidden at all if they're so powerful. It's also hard to believe that they could, say, threaten or bribe each and every witness into silence, or that nothing could ever go wrong when they're trying to dispose of their evidence.

What are people willing to ignore? Many authors try to handwave the general public's failure to notice anything strange by claiming that people just ignore or rationalize away whatever doesn't fit their preconceptions. This isn't quite true.

First, people tend to ignore whatever they're apathetic about. A vampire might be able to get away with preying on a poor black neighborhood that a racist police force and media are willing to ignore as much as possible. A rich white neighborhood, on the other hand? Not a chance. Even in the impossibly unlikely event that the police were unwilling to investigate the deaths and the media was somehow unwilling to milk the tragic death of a pretty white girl for all it was worth, these people could afford to hire private detectives, private security, and the whole nine yards. Conversely, people might readily dismiss reports that a white man was using mind control spells on women, while someone might call the hunters on a Latina practicing nothing more sinister than healing magic. Basically, systemic power dynamics can give you a pretty good idea of what might be ignored or not.

Secondly, people who are already deeply invested in one particular worldview tend to dismiss anything that doesn't fit. Someone who has made a career out of writing books on how extraterrestrials are actually demons won't be inclined to consider any other explanation. Someone who might face shame and ostracism if they told others about a personal werewolf encounter might convince themselves that all they saw was a large feral dog. Someone who was taught from childhood that only idiots believe in magic would be emotionally incentivized against considering its possibility for all of the self-hate it would incite. Should irrefutable proof be provided, this person might still deny it to avoid having to deal with and work through all of that, and might even double down on teaching others that magic isn't real for emotional validation.

However, it must be noted that most people aren't all that deeply invested in a worldview that completely rules out the supernatural. Many people find certain elements romantic and would love for them to be real. Some believe out of religious or personal reasons. Whether it's teenagers who wish they could meet a real vampire, old ladies who leave sweets out for the fairies, people whose traditional beliefs tell them that the dead must be interred correctly or they'll come back to haunt them, people who get tarot readings when they feel stuck or lost, or people who believe in the supernatural simply to spite everyone who says it doesn't exist, you can find many out there who believe in something. Many others don't have any firm belief that supernatural beings exist, but they also don't have any reason to firmly think they don't.

I've also seen a few people claim that deaths caused by vampires and werewolves would simply be rationalized away as normal animal attacks and henceforth ignored. This could be true to some extent, but there are limits to how far this could actually go. The more bodies that are found, the more people are likely to assume there's a dangerous predator in the area and send people out to kill it. Additionally, more victims means a higher chance of their activity making local or even national news, which could catch the attention of hunters who know what to scan the news for.

How much reasonable doubt is there? Giving people good reasons to be skeptical of alleged supernatural activity can make it a lot more plausible that things haven't unraveled. If plenty of people who claim they can work magic turn out to be frauds, and if most people claiming they have ghosts in their home are just getting overexcited about drafty attics and loose gutters, or if visions of supernatural visitors often turn out to be related to drugs, stress, or mental illness, then people can't really be blamed for doubting. Creating reasonable doubt can also discourage witnesses from speaking up. Being perceived as a fraud, attention-seeker, mentally unsound, or as someone who jumps to conclusions can have painful social and professional consequences.

Are you willing to let the masquerade unravel? Are you willing to let the whole thing come undone? Letting the world come to know what's really going on has massive plot potential. If you're willing to let the whole thing drop, then you can up the exposure risk and let the chips fall. If you're not willing, it's best to keep things small, simple, and easy to miss and mistake.


Think about how much you want the mundane and the magical to mingle.

As established earlier, both too much and too little mingling can increase the risk of exposure. If you want to plausibly maintain your masquerade, you'll need to find a sweet spot. But that's not all you should consider - there are other benefits and drawbacks that mingling (or not) can provide.

For supernaturals who rarely (if ever) deal with the mundane world, trying to navigate it would be like trying to navigate a foreign country. The Harry Potter series is a good example; members of the wizarding world are often confused by things we take for granted, even to the point of having no idea what a rubber duck is for. In addition to the obvious comedy potential, it also has potential for drama because navigating the muggle world can be incredibly difficult. But on the other hand, this level of separation prevents the magical and the mundane from interacting in ways that could take the story in some very interesting directions. What might happen if the wizarding community got on the Internet? We'll never know.

Allowing your supernaturals to participate in the mundane world more opens up a lot of story potential. You can ignite your audience's imagination by inviting them to imagine the world they experience every day from a magical point of view: What if the guy writing a novel at the coffee shop is a werewolf? What if a wealthy businesswoman is one of the fae? What happens when sorcerers realize they can do magic with sidewalk chalk? Additionally, you have the option of giving them problems and motivations that anyone on the street could have. A vampire who has to fill out a Form 1040 can be a lot more relatable and sympathetic than one whose only problems are being embroiled in a turf war with other supernatural beings. You can borrow from real life for villainous motivations, too - maybe you have mages who sell performance-enhancing potions with dangerous side effects to athletes, or merpeople who heist cargo from boats, or a werewolf who's a plain old serial killer.

Something to keep in mind is that if your supernaturals are going to mingle in the mundane world a lot, it's probably a good idea to tone down the supernatural weaknesses, at least to some extent. For example, it would be hard for vampires to avoid exposing themselves if they're a risk of going into a frenzy over the smallest whiff of blood. (People scrape and nick themselves pretty often, bloody noses can happen for numerous reasons, and any number of people are going to be on their menses.) Any fae easily distracted by shiny things could be tripped up by mere spoons, pens, and paperclips. And likewise, demons who must flee at the sight of a cross aren't going to be very effective in a world where you can find them everywhere from personal jewelry to decorative kitsch. If you're worried that your supernatural beings might be overpowered through a lack of weaknesses, then consider toning down some of their strengths to even things out again.

And one more thing - the more your supernaturals are involved in the mundane world, the more invested in its politics they're going to be, because those politics will affect them and people they know sooner or later. Just because they're supernatural doesn't mean they won't care about the gentrification happening in the neighborhood they live in, nor care about what will happen to the neighbors they've gotten aquainted with. If they were outright raised as part of any human culture, they'll most likely feel a sense of kinship and belonging with that culture. Very likely they'll share in its values and take offense at bigotry toward it. Basically, a mermaid raised in Ireland is probably going to bristle if somebody starts praising Oliver Cromwell and won't exactly be thrilled when British mermaids start talking about how great the British Empire was.

Take some time and think about whether you're most interested in writing your supernaturals as aliens to our culture, or writing about them as hidden within our own society, or writing them somewhere in between. If you're not sure what to go for, ask yourself what kind of stories you're most interested in telling, and pick the option that suits it best.


Think carefully about how powerful you want them to be.

While a huge part of the appeal of masquerades is the inclusion of characters who have powers that ordinary people don't, making them too powerful can easily create problems for your story. The bigger and more obvious their powers are, the greater the risk of being noticed. If their powers and capabilities are such that being exposed won't do anything worse than cause them some mild inconvenience, then the risk of exposure has no real dramatic value. Maybe you're writing a story where the risk of being exposed isn't supposed to be a source of dramatic tension, and that's fine - but if it is, you can't give them an easy escape like that.

If you're trying to write your supernaturals as a kind of marginalized or oppressed minority, then it's really important that you don't make them excessively powerful. If they're so strong that they can easily squish mortals like insects, then they're not actually oppressed; if they act like they are and use this as justification to hurt people, then they're just bullies with victim complexes.

Giving them too much power can also raise the question of why your supernaturals bother to hide among humans at all. It's one thing if they're angels or alien scientists and have superiors who are invested in maintaining the masquerade, but it doesn't really work if they're just another kind of people who live in this world. Maintaining a masquerade is always inconvenient to some degree (if not an entire logistical headache), so if they're powerful enough they'd lose nothing by revealing themselves, or could go create their own human-free spaces to live, we really gotta wonder why they don't just do it already.

Making them too powerful can also raise the question of why they didn't just dominate the world before humans had the chance. Humans today might be a match for them with their fancy mdoern technology, but that wouldn't have been the case a few thousand years ago. I've seen a few authors claim that the supernaturals actually were in charge until ancient humans finally led a revolt that forced them into hiding, but in every case it made no sense because the supernaturals would have still been powerful enough to take on the significantly weaker humans and their relatively primitive weaponry.

So basically, while you probably want to give them nifty powers of some kind, you don't want to give them powers that would solve their problems too easily or raise unanswerable questions about your worldbuilding. Try to find a balance between what's fun and what best serves your plot and worldbuilding.


Think about what might reasonably happen if they were exposed or tried to self-disclose.

Even if you don't plan to tear down the masquerade, it's still worth thinking about because it helps you flesh out the socio-political environment of your world. So stop and think about what might reasonably happen - and I do mean reasonably. Many writers severely overestimate some risk factors while totally overlooking others.

Many works of fiction present the biggest threats as being hauled away by the government, by mental health services, or by random scientists. Additionally, they treat this risk as equal for everyone regardless of race, gender, or social class. However, there are numerous problems with this.

First of all, it's hilariously ignorant to assume that the US government would care more about finding and stopping rich white vampires than they'd care about persecuting black people and other POC through the so-called War on Drugs. Rich white vampires wouldn't need any magic whatsoever to keep the government off their backs; all they'd need is to be rich, white, and politically complacent. (And if you think there wouldn't be anyone in the US government who wouldn't knowingly collude with a rich white conservative vampire just like a certain orange-skinned president colluded with a certain government, you'd be wrong.)

On the other hand, if the vampires are poor and/or POC, then you can bet your buttons the government will do something. They'll probably be instructing everybody from police forces to school children in how to deal with the vampire menace, and it won't matter if the vampires are a mostly harmless bunch. A lot of innocent blood will be spilled, whether vampire or humans presumed to be vampires.

The idea of mental health services aggressively chasing after someone who proclaimed herself Queen of the Faeries is pretty laughable when you consider how the mental health industry actually is. While being hospitalized against one's will is something that happens occasionally, there are strict policies regarding when this can happen. And while these policies can be abused, the abuse will disproportionately affect marginalized minorities and the politically dissident. Additionally, mental health services in the US are very poorly funded, so aggressively hunting people down for looking a bit eccentric wouldn't be in their best interests.

If our lass what proclaims herself Queen of the Faeries is a celebrity artist, most people will just assume she's doing it for artistic reasons, or is in touch with her divine feminine, or is harmlessly eccentric. She might get some hate from her detractors, who might use the opportunity to call her unhinged or whatever, but nobody is actually going to institutionalize her.

If she's a working class or middle class mother, what's more likely to happen is that people will decide she's mentally ill and quietly cut her off, effectively ostracizing and isolating her. Those she was acquainted with will tut and gossip about her apparent delusions with hushed tones and long stares that faintly imply a moral failing on her part, sending an unspoken yet firm message to other women that they'd better not fall down the same path. If she's single, there's a greater risk that someone will call CPS and have her children taken away - moreso if she's POC. Additionally, relatives or an ex-husband might try to use her alleged insanity against her in a custody battle. If she's employed in a corporate workplace, her enemies and rivals may use this information against her to keep her from getting promoted, or worse, get her fired.

If she's a school student, there are numerous ways this could go. Best case scenario, people will think she's joking and brush it off. Not so great scenario, people will gossip about how she's gone insane, her rivals and enemies will use it against her however they can, and she'll be stigmatized and outcast. She might attract a few people who believe her or think it's all just a game, but her larger social life will likely take a serious blow. Although her parents have the the legal power to send her to a mental hospital, they might not be able to afford it. Additionally, few parents are willing to accept the possibility that their child might have genuine mental health issues. They're much more likely to blame her choices in media for giving her tender and impressionable mind fake ideas and take away her favorite books and games, and they may try to steer or outright force her toward whatever they consider more wholesome interests. Or it's entirely possible that her parents will just think she's a young creative genius whose imaginative gifts aren't appreciated and take her side. There's also even a possibility that her parents might be New Agey type people and just believe her.

Now let's talk about scientists as a menace. First off, any time scientists are treated as a categorical menace to supernatural beings, there are some dangerous anti-intellectual implications there. It's important to remember that science, when practiced in good faith, tends to confirm what human rights activists keep trying to tell people - that racism is irrational and phenotypical differences are superficial only, that poverty worsens mental illness and creates incentives to commit crime, and that global warming is going to be really, really bad if we don't do something about it immediately. So, demonizing scientists as a whole is really a bad take.

Now, this isn't to say that science has always been practiced in good faith. Powerful institutions have employed their own scientists to find results that agree with their agendas and prejudices, and anthropological research is often skewed by racial and cultural bias. But this is not a reason to demonize science or scientists on the whole; the scientific method has no moral bias unto itself, meaning that scientists acting in good faith can do their own research to disprove the results of scientists acting in bad faith.

Now with that out of the way, let's talk about why getting kidnapped by scientists of any kind probably wouldn't be a huge risk.

First of all, most scientists don't have a lot of money or other resources; instead, most have to operate on shoestring budgets. This alone makes capturing relatively large and sapient test subjects and keeping them alive for any length of time extremely unfeasible.

Next, there's the question of what they want to find or learn. If they're trying to figure out how the supernaturals live, it would probably involve a lot more stalking and spying than kidnapping. If they want DNA, goodness knows how much of that ends up on things thrown into the trash. If they're trying to figure out how to kill them, why? Is there some reason to think that none of the weapons we already have won't work? If they're trying to find a way to weaponize them or something they have, would this actually provide a tactical advantage compared to what's already available? (Yeah, sorry, in absolutely no universe will a sapient being with any biological and/or psychological needs whatsoever ever be the "perfect weapon.")

Now, maybe somebody wants to study the nitty-gritty of their biology. After all, many things about supernatural beings like vampires and werewolves defy everything we know about biology (if not the very laws of physics!) and figuring out how they work would result in world-changing scientific breakthroughs. And maybe, just maybe, if somebody has the actual resources, a kidnapping could happen. But this wouldn't mean that kidnapping supernatural beings for science would be common; it's not like they'd need a ton of research subjects. Dissecting and torturing test subjects doesn't exactly provide the most useful results in this day and age.

It's also possible they wouldn't even need to kidnap them at all. If the supernaturals are relatively poor or powerless, whoever's trying to get the study going might try to offer money or necessities (which they may or may not pay up in the end), or offer to keep the rest of their community safe from those who might hurt them (again, they may or may not hold up their end of the deal).

So if the threat of being kidnapped by the government, by mental health services, or by scientists isn't actually a big problem in the way a lot of writers make it out to be, what else could happen?

One potential risk is poachers. There's always a market for anything believed to have magical or medicinal properties. In Tanzania, many albinos have been mutilated or killed (serious content warnings for gore and mutilation, animal and human) so their body parts could be used in spells primarily commissioned by local celebrities and politicians. Since people are fundamentally the same all over, it's not difficult to imagine that something similar could take place almost anywhere. One can easily picture an American celebrity touting "ethically sourced" werewolf blood ("A teaspoon of werewolf blood in your morning coffee gives you the predatory edge you need to get ahead!") that's anything but. Neither is it hard to imagine a celebrity athlete buying performance enhancement supplements made from ground-up troll bone on the sly. Indeed, it's possible that the biggest motive for being a supernatural hunter isn't protecting people from monsters, but to make money selling body parts and fluids. (But of course, many of them would absolutely claim they were just trying to protect the people.)

It's also very possible that the supernaturals get treated the same way societies tend to treat any poorly-understood minority group: with suspicion and scapegoating. This scenario is most likely in an atmosphere of socio-political uncertainty and/or general hardship, where people are on edge and looking for somebody to blame. While it's almost certain that many people would believe the fear to be irrational and unfounded, more than enough could be so caught up in it that they could cause serious problems for the supernaturals. Essentially, it might lead to moral panic. Exactly how it would play out would depend on a lot of factors. In an extreme case, it could lead to the government creating agencies or commissions to hunt them down - assuming they don't have any existing ones that could be assigned to the job already. They might create or fund awareness/propaganda campaigns. Or they might take completely passive role, simply saying and doing nothing when citizens or police officers kill supernaturals and perpetutate hate and fear against them. Exactly how aggressive the government would be depends on whether diplomatic or xenophobic personalities have more sway, how much imminent danger they think they're in, and how much they're concerned about a potential public backlash.

In a less extreme case, you might have simmering tensions for years, even decades or longer. The government might begrudgingly accept the presence of the supernaturals, but attempt to regulate their actions and keep them cordoned away from everyone else as much as possible. And it's most likely that they'd turn a blind eye to violence and crime committed against them. The supernaturals might find themselves fighting for rights and equality for years. (For more information, check out On Designing & Writing Oppressive Governments In Your Fiction.)

And it's completely possible that most people in the government wouldn't actually care that much. If they're not looking for a scapegoat right now and the supernaturals don't seem to be doing anything that threatens their agendas and interests directly, they might just shrug and leave them alone for the most part. (This is especially true if they think they have bigger problems to contend with. Who's got time to worry about WASPy suburban faeries when there's a War on Terror going on?) Likewise, if it turns out that a good chunk of the supernaturals support their policies and have voting power, they might be reluctant to act out against them.

And of course, public reception will depend a lot on how much the supernaturals resemble whatever the majority considers good and wholesome. It should go without saying that in a socio-political environment like the US, that anything that looks light and "angelic" would be a lot more accepted than something that looks dark and "demonic." Likewise, if their values are close enough to cultural Christianity or at least resemble something European, they'll be seen as less suspicious or sinister than if their values are more in line with something else. It really wouldn't be a stretch to think that the majority of the US would be more willing to accommodate a group whose ideals were in line with Medieval European monarchanism and feudalism than they'd be willing to accept a group whose ideals were closer to the Iroquois confederacy. (If you don't think so, just look at the Quiverfull movement and fundamentalist Mormons. Despite actually engaging in practices that Muslims are frequently accused of trying to bring in the US, they largely get a free pass because they're white Christians.)


Resist the temptation to give everything a supernatural cause or connection.

It can be awfully tempting to ascribe supernatural causes and connections to things, whether it's making Mozart a werewolf or blaming atrocities on demons. The problem is, this kind of thing can often have insensitive, if not downright disrespectful implications.

If you make fictional supernatural beings responsible for real life atrocities, you disrespect the victims by letting the perpetrators off the hook. You also minimize and dismiss the very real impact that unchecked bigotry, intolerance, greed, and apathy has on people. It's very important that the real reasons behind hate and violence in this world are never glossed over, but that the human perpetrators are always given full credit for everything they did.

Another thing you don't want to do is set up your fictional beings as primary targets of real life atrocities and persecutions. It either erases victims from their own narratives and/or implies that the prejudice and hatred against them wasn't as bad as people claim; or it implies that the people doing the persecuting were driven by factual events instead of baseless paranoia and irrational hatred, and simply made an honest mistake when they went after innocents. Either way, it's a bad look.

Making fictional beings responsible for positive things can also be disrespectful, because it minimizes how smart people actually were. A good example of this is the "ancient aliens" trope, which often claims that aliens built things like the pyramids, Stonehenge, or the moai of Rapa Nui. The problem? It dismisses the possibility that people could've just been smart enough to figure out how to make things without modern industrial equipment. The ancient aliens hypothesis also frequently posits that stories of gods and heroes were based on literal alien encounters, which implies that ancient humans didn't have enough intelligence and imagination for abstract and symbolic thought, and dismisses the emotional and social truths that myths were always intended to carry.

And of course, once you start claiming that every famous visionary, innovator, and revolutionary throughout history was secretly supernatural or inspired by someone supernatural, you start implying that humans aren't capable of doing anything on their own, which is pretty insulting. Sure, you probably want to give your supernaturals some cool accomplishments, but you shouldn't steal credit for other people's accomplishments, nor imply that humans are incapable of doing things on their own. This is a really demeaning message to send, especially if it involves marginalized people whose accomplishments are already downplayed or ignored by society.

So what can you do instead? You can develop history that doesn't really involve ordinary people all that much, or if it does, mainly focuses on fictional ones. If you really want to involve real people, do it in a way that doesn't give your supernaturals credit for their historical actions. Having your vampire ghostwrite the US constitution is definitely a no-no, but having your vampire character spend a wild night with a senator known for getting around? Knock yourself out. Likewise, you shouldn't have your fae character inspire a famous speech, but go ahead and have your fae fight off another supernatural being who'd stop this speech from being made in the first place. (Just don't feel like you have to insert a supernatural story into every historical event. Exercise some restraint here - the more, the better.)


More things you should know and do.

Be respectful when it comes to marginalized people's beliefs and traditions. Most masquerades involve supernatural beings inspired by old folklore, and that's usually fine. What's not fine is when writers treat marginalized people's cultures and spiritual traditions as fantasy trope grab bags. Tips On Taking Inspiration From Real-Life Myth, Lore, Tradition, & Legend Without Looking Pretentious, Ignorant, or Insulting has more information.

Do the math! Way too many masquerades lose their plausibility because the writers made them way too big and complicated to believably avoid exposing themselves. Check out Where & How Writers Need To Do The Math for tips.

Understand why and how people actually keep things under wraps. Too many masquerade scenarios have the supernaturals keeping things under wraps for reasons that make no sense when you actually think about them, or use methods that just plain wouldn't work. Check out Tips To Write Better & More Believable Cover-Ups and Things Writers Need To Know About Security & Concealment for more help.

Don't lose track of the regular people. It's easy to get so wrapped up in the drama of your supernatural beings that you forget just how many people are out there to potentially notice something going on. Like for example, if a vampire was leaving around as many bodies as a serial killer, people would start thinking there was a serial killer out there. Points To Remember When Worldbuilding and How To Make The Nameless, Faceless, & Minor Characters In Your Story Feel Human To You can help you out here.

Remember that no group is a monolith. Neither the ordinary people nor the supernatural beings should be written as monolithic in opinion, attitude, or goals. Check out How To Write People On Large Scales for more tips.

If any of your supernaturals are supposed to be involved in political scheming and manipulation, know how it actually works. While having all of your supernaturals involved in political manipulation has some really skeevy connotations, having a few of them in on it can be a different matter if you handle it with care. Check out Plotting, Conniving, & Manipulating - What It Isn't, And What It Is and Writing Characters Who Work Behind The Scenes & From The Shadows for information.


Also, check out:

Things About Death, Dying, & Murder Writers Need To Know
Pointlessly Edgy Tropes To Reconsider Using
Tips For Writing & Maintaining A Horror Atmosphere
On Writing & Roleplaying Mysterious Characters

So You Wanna Mix Science And Magic?
Keeping Magic From Taking Over Your Story
Things Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction Story Needs
Magical & Supernatural Tropes To Reconsider (And Tips To Build Up Your Magical/Supernatural Settings!)

Alexis Feynman's Guide To Writing Better Vampire Fiction
Common Werewolf Tropes You Should Think Twice Before Using
Tips For Writing Better Immortal & Long-Lived Characters
Common Plotholes In Vampire Fiction
Tips To Write Better Royalty, Nobility, & Other Upper-Class & Important Characters



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