One of the things I’ve contemplated often over the years is the shadow. What it is. What it means. How an artist can use it. How we as readers or viewers react to it and why it creates such intense emotions in those who read or see or hear it.
It doesn’t matter what the art – painting, dancing, writing, music, theater – the shadow has power.
The shadow haunts our dreams. That undefinable darkness or evil is far more frightening than the evil we can see or touch. That’s why movie makers don’t allow us to see the killer or the stalker until it’s too late. That’s why great horror stories don’t tell us exactly what the big evil looks like – our imagination of the shadow is far more frightening than anything we can actually see.
The shadow is individual. My shadow is different than yours and yours is different than the one that belongs to your sister or your brother. But we each have one.
One of my favorite shadow stories is the Pixar film, Monsters, Inc. That movie explores the shadow that all children know – the monster that lives under the bed or in the closet. Once we get to know that shadow monster, we’re no longer scared of it. The shadow is all about not knowing.
As a writer, I try to remember that shadow lurking in the hearts of my characters. No one is perfect, no one has lived a life without having done something they regret. Great stories – from A Tale of Two Cities to How the Grinch Stole Christmas – work because we cheer for the man who has done wrong and still turns out okay. That’s what we hope for our friends and our family, and that’s what we strive for with our characters.