Think back to the last time you found yourself in the dark. Maybe you were camping, or out late on the beach, or even in a room darkened by thick curtains. Take yourself back to that moment and remember: what did you see?
Darkness can be velvety and thick. It can wrap around us like a blanket. In the dark, we slow down, we pay attention, we're often on guard. In the dark, we're also more open to wonder. If you're like most people, what you remember seeing in the dark isn't the darkness, but the light. Did you remember stars or the moon or a lit candle? When we're in the dark, the light draws our eye.
In fact, light doesn't show up very well unless it is placed next to the dark. Visual artists know this principal well. Take a look at master artworks and you'll see heavy, dark tones that set off startling flashes of light.
Joseph Campbell said, "At the darkest moment comes the light." After studying stories for a lifetime, and pulling the patterns he saw together into the Hero's Journey framework, Campbell knew a thing or two about character and story. The truth is, to create characters who glimmer with hope, we must allow their darkness to also show up on the page.
Even though I know darkness is necessary for creating authentic characters, I still back away when I see a quality in one of my characters that I don't like. Why is she so jealous? I might wonder. How can he be so cruel? As writers, we can't avoid the fact that everything that shows up in our writing has somehow grown out of our own life experience or perspective. We may not be jealous or cruel, but in seeing our character's capacity to be those things, we realize that no matter how much we wish it weren't true, we have that capacity as well.
And yet, acts of courage, trust, or kindness wouldn't mean as much if they didn't cost us something. We're often moved to tears by stories of heroes because we know that setting our own needs aside and doing the heroic thing is anything but easy.
It's a stunning thing when a writer can face his or her own darkness to create a character who sparkles with light. Those are the stories I most want to read ... and the ones I aim to write every day when I sit down at my desk.
Our world needs courageous writers and daring readers who aren't afraid of the dark. What we see there points the way to transformation and understanding.
Naomi Kinsman is an author, educator and creativity coach. She is the author of the FROM SADIE'S SKETCHBOOK series and recently collaborated with singer, Natalie Grant, on the GLIMMER GIRLS series. Naomi is also the founder and Executive Director of Society of Young Inklings, an organization that offers classes, mentorships and publishing opportunities for young authors ages 6-16. Society of Young Inklings utilizes WRITERLY PLAY, the improv-based teaching methodology that Naomi developed, as the foundation for its programming. www.naomikinsman.com