In her book Making a Good Writer Great, writer and script-doctor Linda Seger has an entire chapter devoted to helping writers bring out the “shadow” side of their characters.
“We each contain many contrasting character traits – both good and bad,” Seger writes. “Sometimes we’re cruel, vindictive, petty and hateful. We get jealous of those who are doing well. We want to kill off the competition…We also have a great capacity for good. We do extraordinary acts of kindness. We’re willing to struggle to help each other. We can be uncompromising in our integrity.”
Seger’s encouragement is to allow those same inner struggles to come out in our characters. Christian authors sometimes struggle with this. Seger says of many of her religious clients, “They are well-intentioned people who sincerely want to write stories that enrich the human spirit, but they shy away from exposing human flaws or negative characteristics. Their characters have nowhere to go because they start off so nice and perfect.”
Every one of us has a shadow side – things we hide away from others (even from ourselves) – for fear that if others knew about it, we’d be rejected, or worse. Our shadow is shaped by our families, our culture, our failures, our sin. The shadow side of us may even contain good traits that have never been allowed to flower because of ignorance or fear.
Why explore the “shadow” in our art? Well, because it’s honest, for starters. But more to the point, because the most memorable stories send their characters out on journeys into the unknown, where they can face their demons, and fight dragons, and receive wounds that in the end, will lead to a growth of their souls.
The shadow knows, like it’s said. So don’t leave your shadow behind.
Questions To Ponder:
Are you comfortable exploring the shadow side of your art? What steps can you take to give the shadow more visibility in your art?
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