Saturday, February 13, 2016

What I've Learned About Story: The Shadow

The shadow, otherwise known as the subconscious Big Bad within all of us, can be a valuable villain/antagonist, or it can represent internal conflict. In Jungian psychology, the shadow sometimes manifests in dreams as a person. This concept is beautifully illustrated in Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Shadow,' an eerie short story in which a scholar's shadow takes on a magnificent life of its own and is very charming, its sinister motives hidden until it's too late for the protagonist.

INTERNAL: The inner shadow becomes hostile when ignored or misunderstood. The shadow represents all the flaws, neuroses, bad habits, and dark thoughts characters sometimes refuse to acknowledge. Selfishness. Destructive pride. A tendency to procrastinate. Violence. All can be used to add tension when a protagonist has to make important choices. Having a hero make the wrong decision can sometimes cause far more delightful story havoc than having him or her make the smart one. Faults reveal characters to be human and vulnerable. Inner conflict means a hero isn't just fighting a physical enemy, but an emotional one as well.

EXTERNAL: The shadow in this case is embodied by a person, a monster, an organization, even a force of nature. The antagonist could have some connection to the hero, or be a reflection of the protagonist's dark side or weaknesses. Other versions of the shadow are the anima and the animus. The dark anima for the man is female, cold, poisonous, a femme fatale. For the woman, the destructive animus is a seductive embodiment of death or a demonic bridegroom. These inner forces in a main character can be used to create antagonists who reflect the hero, an opposite, someone the hero fears becoming.

The Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood is a dangerous fixture of Red's environment and a savage and sly counter to her naivete. Superheroes fight villains who often mirror their darker side, as in Batman--ever grim and sober--and the Joker. The brilliant Sherlock Holmes has his ominous and intelligent reflection, Professor Moriarty. The carefree, eternal Peter Pan has a mirror-opposite in Hook, a grown man who has turned to the dark side. Katniss, the rebellious Girl on Fire, has the evil and icy President Snow.

Being aware of the main character's flaws and faults can help a writer create a complex and conflicted hero. And an antagonist who feeds on those flaws is a fearsome obstacle indeed.

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