I’m a reasonably well-adjusted person. At least that’s what I like to think. I manage to function as one of the herd in my day-to-day life. I’m generally a pacifist, I don’t even kill bugs in the house if I can trap them and let them go outside. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve never been drawn to horror movies, or the kind of books Stephen King or Clive Barker write. I don’t watch splatter flicks, slasher movies, whatever you want to call them. Buckets of blood just aren’t my thing.
So why am I now trying to write a character with real darkness? What’s gnawing at my soul?
I don’t know where he came from, but he showed up pretty much fully-formed in my mind. I did have to tease a couple of his secrets out of him, a little at a time. He doesn’t like to talk about his past much, which is understandable I can tell now. Not that he’s inherently violent, or any kind of psychopath, but he’s been to the abyss, and fell into its maw, and came back out of it.
I firmly believe that we each have the capacity for darkness in us, and I am no exception. But I’ve never courted it before, never brought it to the surface to examine it. It’s lain, if not hidden, certainly ignored, in the past. Now however, if I’m going to do this character justice, bring him fully to life, I have to not only acknowledge the existence of my dark side but bore all the way down to the bottom, with no hardhat, or headlight, and no canary to tell me if the air is poisoned.
It’s a little frightening to tap into a side of myself that I may not be able to pack neatly away again when I’m done with it, that I will go in so deep I won’t come back out. I am finding this difficult. I’ve spent my life trying to avoid living this kind of ugliness in the real world, as most people do. We like to take care of our responsibilities, keep our homes neat, our yards trimmed, wash our cars on weekends, share a laugh with a friend. We do everything we can to direct the course of our lives in a much sunnier direction. However, those dark impulses that served our ancient ancestors so well are merely dormant, not dead.
But perhaps I worry needlessly. Perhaps the more closely we examine and understand that aspect of ourselves, whether we work it out in therapy or on the pages of a novel, the less we have to fear from it. Knowledge is power, and understanding the darker emotions: rage, hate, bitterness, maybe the more control we can have over them. That’s such a nice, pat, pop psychology answer, isn’t it? Along with all those other clichés we tell ourselves to reduce everything to manageable, controllable, compartmentalized size. Kind of makes me want to throw something.