It’s Recess Time and We Need More Players!
Earlier this week, For Meaningful Mondays, I wrote “a little bit” about how I’ve been learning to integrate my shadow.
Today, I will share how Playing Tag With Your Shadows can inform your writing.
More particularly, how you craft your characters so that they can become multi-dimentional beings that pop out of the page.
Whether you’re writing a protagonist or antagonist, it is important to give them a dark side that isn’t dark for the sake of being dark. You want to make their malevolence understandable and rooted in believable reasoning–no matter how horribly they will behave in your story.
Audiences these days are starting to catch on to how lazy and boring stock villains are. You know the kind, the ones that wake up in the morning and wonder if there’s a cute little puppy somewhere out there that they can kick for sake of being evil. There’s a time and place for such a generic villain, but the villain (or even protagonist) that I will help you create today could massacre that generic villain into oblivion.
So be prepared for a very unconventional type of writing exercise that isn’t your run of the mill plot graph or haiku practice. We’re going to dig deep into your discomfort, and use all those disgusting and disturbing feelings inside you for your benefit. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be grateful that you even have them in the first place!
Tag, You’re It!
The most common writing advice is “write what you know,” and so in regards to crafting a malevolent and sympathizable villain, or even a flawed hero, you need to guage how well you know yourself. Here’s how you do it:
Keep a journal, if you don’t already. It’s a useful tool in taming the chaotic mind.
In order to create genuine darkness in your characters, you need to first understand the darkness that dwells within you. What kinds of disgusting and disturbing thoughts enter your mind on a daily basis? What causes them? Are they of your own making or are they reactions to circumstance? These are the kinds of thoughts that you usually keep to yourself and have, for better or for worse, not told anybody if not for a handful people (possibly even a professional clinician).
Whether you feel guilt, shame, or embarassment, write them down and explore them. Take the time to understand why you may think and feel this way at times. Most importantly, don’t hold back on saying what you really want to say. If you feel yourself thinking “that’s too harsh, I shouldn’t say that,” then actually say it. Give your shadow the space to express itself.
Maybe you’re grieving the loss of somebody you loved, or even hated, and have yet to process what your relationship to them has meant to you.
Maybe there’s somebody in your life that you love, but for some reason often get frustrated with because you either haven’t told them why or you don’t even know why yet.
Or maybe somebody wronged you in the past. A family member, a friend, or a lover has hurt you and you hold a grudge against them.
Writing Prompt #1: In your journal, write about a person or situation that often stirs up negative feelings in you. What kinds of irrational and dangerous things do you fantasize yourself doing in order to have your emotions be known? Don’t actually do them, but write them down no matter how horrible they may seem. The worse, the better.
“Tag. Now You Are the One Who is It”
If you thought understanding your own dark and disturbing thoughts was hard enough, try this even more difficult exercise:
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has hurt you, or someone who you simply cannot stand for hurting others. Or maybe they haven’t hurt anybody at all, and it’s just their entire mode of being itself that disturbs you (like US President Donald Trump).
These are real everyday people just like us. They have their own troubles and concerns, and in their minds, they too are the heroes of their own stories. Whether we agree with them or not is not important, but what is important is understanding where they’re coming from.
Everybody has their own reasons, no matter how rational or irrational, for doing what they do. Everybody is driven by their own goals and motivations, and often times those goals and motivations just so happen to be misaligned with the opinions and values of others. Everybody hurts; everybody gets hurt.
You know the saying, “bad guys are just sad days.”
Or better yet, to quote one of my favourite lines from Netflix’s Daredevil series, “you’re just one bad day away from becoming me.” It’s what The Punisher says to Daredevil when Daredevil argues for why he has never and never will murder criminals.
So maybe these people you can’t stand have been hurt themselves and are acting out their hurt in a way that’s inconvenient, if not downright disturbing to you. Maybe they get on your nerves because they lack basic self-awareness of how undesirable their behaviour is. Or better yet…they remind you of yourself.
Sometimes the criticism we have for others is criticism we need to apply to ourselves so can ultimately improve. After all, it’s so much easier to see fault in others and wish they would change rather than admitting to our own faults and actually doing the work.
Writing Prompt #2: Put yourself in the shoes of someone you
dislike despise. Try and see if you can understand why they might have done what they did to you or others, or simply why they might be the way they are. Again, the worse they are, the better. And if you can ascribe understandable reasons on their part, whether they are close to the possible truth or not is not what’s important. The important thing is to see if ou you can empathize even with the worst of people so that you can create villains who people will understand.*
*Understanding where someone’s coming from is not condoning their actions. It’s simply the difficult, yet very important practice of admitting to our own human follies. That we are all flawed, make mistakes, and misunderstand things at times.
Game Over, Man!
I originally intended on a third writing prompt, but I think keeping it at a more local and personal level was the best way to go about this Workshop Wednesday. The third method of integrating your shadow in your writing is a lot more abstract and impersonal, and you can feel free to request it of me for a future article, but for now this is what I impart to you:
Dig deep into the darkest parts of yourself and understand it, and on the flipside, take the time to understand the people you usally perceive as disgusting and disturbing. Maybe you’re more alike than you think, and that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe they reflect parts of yourself that you repress and being aware of these parts can help you keep them under better control.
If you found this lesson helpful, please feel free to share it with others who you think can benefit from it and leave a comment below if you have any feedback or criticisms!