Working with The Shadow: A Writer’s Guide

Light and Dark: The Shadow
Light and Dark: one cannot exist without the other.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
— Wendell Berry

The Shadow is multifaceted, amorphous and difficult to define exactly or specifically. It is a force, a concept, a construct, an archetype, existing both externally and internally, universally and individually within the human culture and within the human psyche. It is the opposite of light, love, “goodness” and life. Yet it also contains within it tremendous energy and wisdom. Like the concept of Yin and Yang, within Light and Shadow exists a seed of the other.

In order to understand The Shadow as a whole, we first have to look within the psyche. The unconscious is our perilous Dark Forest where both treasure and ogre exist. There is no light. No way. Adventures and trials await as do fell and foul beasties. Allies and enemies. Neuroses and Complexes. Daemon and Demon. Heaven and Hell. Gods and Goddesses, Mother and Father. Kings and Queens, Paladins and Princesses. Tricksters and Shape-shifters, Charlatans and Shamans. Were-wolves, Wild Wolves, and Wangdoodles.

For the writer, working with The Shadow can be a terrifying and transformative experience, both artistically and personally. In this article, we will explore different types of Shadow: Personal, Collective, External and Demonic, and how they are portrayed in various forms of writing including film/screenplays, stage plays, and fiction.

What Lies Beneath, Below, Within

Carl Jung's Concept of The Shadow: A Universal Archetype.
Carl Jung’s concept of The Shadow is a universal archetype that takes many forms.

How can I be substantial without casting a Shadow? I must have a dark side too if I am to be whole: and by becoming conscious of my Shadow, I remember once more that I am a human being like any other.

(Carl Jung, 1931. Quoted from Personality and Personal Growth, 2005 6th Edition, R. Frager & J. Fadiman).

In Jungian psychology, the Personal Shadow is the opposite to the Persona (our outer Ego mask). The Personal Shadow is described as being an “archetype” within the unconscious that holds all of the rejected material from the Ego and Persona of the conscious mind: tendencies, desires, emotions and impulses. The things we hate about ourselves. The Personal Shadow also contains underdeveloped qualities, positive as well as negative, and animal instincts. As we develop, this archetype becomes a “Shadow Self;” it is part of the human experience. We all have a Shadow.

If the Personal Shadow is integrated into the conscious mind, it makes for a strong, creative, well-adjusted human being. If the Personal Shadow is not successfully integrated, the results are that the Shadow is either projected outward or projected inward.

The Collective Shadow, according to the Jungian model, contains all of the repressed and rejected qualities that are learned and inherited: cultural, social and familial. It is here where Jung’s archetypes, the “animus” and “anima”, reside. If you are a woman, you have an animus which is male, and if you are a man, you have an anima which is female. The animus/anima archetype contains all that you reject of your self-image as a woman or a man. It also contains the material of what you learned about being a woman or a man from your mother and father, your culture, and your society. We tend to “project” our animus/anima onto the gender of our sexual attraction. If not properly integrated, the animus/anima can become pathologically dominating within the psyche and within relationships.

As with the Personal Shadow, if integrated, the animus/anima and their content can become allies, guides, and a source of wisdom. Jung refers to this integration as a “union of opposites.”Joseph Campbell points out that this “holy union” of the male and female is a universal theme in Hero Myths.

What Lies Above, Without, Around

The Wachowski Brothers' Shadow concept: The 1999 film, The Matrix.
The Wachowski Brothers’ Shadow concept: The 1999 film, The Matrix.

The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it, when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes…unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself (Morpheus from the 1999 Film, The Matrix).

In addition to the Personal and Collective Shadow within the psyche, there is a universally accepted concept of an External Shadow. Perhaps not the computer generated prison by human – hating machines as depicted in The Matrix, but the External Shadow is a force that is “out there.” The External Shadow is not necessarily “Bad” or “Evil.” It can be portrayed as “Chaos”, “Dark Force”, or “Dark Energy” or “Chi.” In life it is the energy that fuels, surrounds and infuses conflict. It is “Murphy’s Law” “Fate”, “Karma” and “Nature.” While we interact with it, it is definitively an external, rather than internal, source of Shadow.

A second type of External Shadow, at least in phenomenal accounting, is “Demonic”, “Bad or Evil” Shadow. World-wide, human cultures express a belief in the personification of “Evil”: Monsters, the Devil, Demons, Bad Spirits, etc.. In this instance, The Shadow is its own entity, its own character. It has intention. Specifically, Evil Intentions.

On Shadow and the Writing Craft

Writer Stephen King: the quintessential example of a Shadow Writer.
Stephen King: a quintessential example of a writer who works with The Shadow.

Being is a mystery, being is concealment, but there is meaning beyond the mystery. The meaning beyond the mystery seeks to come to expression. The destiny of human beings is to articulate what is concealed. The divine seeks to be disclosed in the human. — Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man, 1965.

In writing story we know the protagonist needs an antagonist. And for the story to be interesting, the protagonist and antagonist need to compliment and conflict with each other in development, complexity and depth.

In fiction, when writers refer to “character flaw” they are really referring to a character’s Personal and Collective Shadow. The best “character flaws” are the ones that are natural to the character and their personality and psyche, not a fabricated adornment by the writer.

In dramatic writing — including screenplay writing — The Shadow is present in the inciting incident, conflict, obstacles, rising action and increasing stakes. The best in dramatic writing isn’t about the dialogue, it’s about the “subtext,” for it is subtext that we feel the presence of The Shadow: that which is below, hidden, unspoken, within, around but very present.

The following are some examples of how writers work with, express and illustrate various forms of The Shadow. Each example contains one or more Shadow element: Personal, Collective, External and Demonic as discussed above. In talking about writing and The Shadow, we will refer to whatever form of The Shadow analyzed in the work collectively as “Shadow Content.”

Welcome to the Dark Side

Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcokc's 1960 film, Psycho.
Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, Psycho.

Behind the repressed darkness and the personal shadow – that which has been and is rotting and that which is not yet and is germinating – is the archetypal darkness, the principle of not-being, which has been named and described as the Devil, as Evil, as Original Sin, as Death, as Nothingness. — James Hillman

The 1960 film, Psycho, screenplay by Joseph Stefano, (based on the book by Robert Bloch) and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, though highly sensationalistic, is without a doubt the quintessential example of the expression of the Personal and Collective Shadow in character. Norman Bates has been taken over by his anima and it projects outward with horrific results. However, what is striking about this film in regards to writing, and in this instance to directing, is Hitchcock’s use of light and shadow in filming. He creates shadows in his scenes: a metaphorical reference to Norman’s Shadow, the Collective Shadow, and the matrix of the External Shadow that binds the story and its characters together creating the story’s Shadow Content and character arcs.

The Shadow Content in Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, is created by its three main characters Stella, Blanche and Stanley. Stanley is an abusive, animalistic man, with a pathological need to dominate. His wife Stella is passive, co-dependent and finds Stanley’s abusive nature thrilling. Blanche, Stella’s sister, is an educated snob whose sexual addiction to young men results in her being fired and thrown out of town. At the beginning of the play ( the inciting incident) Blanche arrives at Stella and Stanley’s doorstep with no where else to go. From the natural interplay of each of these characters’ Personal and Collective Shadows comes the story and the play. Williams knows his characters intimately. He puts them in a small apartment with no doors and “character flaws” flow like wine. The result is a seamless and breathtaking drama with naturally Shadow-ridden character arcs.

In Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining, King not only creates an incredibly Shadow-ridden character in the form of Jack Torrence, he creates a story in which the External — in this case Demonic — Shadow of the haunted Overlook Hotel interacts most intimately with Jack Torrence’s Personal and Collective Shadow to create the story’s epic Shadow Content. The character Jack Torrence is an abused abuser, alcoholic and failed writer. King, as writer, exploits both himself and Jack Torrence mercilessly. King’s ability to navigate his own Shadow and those of his characters is what makes the writing in The Shining effective, horrific and wonderful.

Stories like the the 1975 film Jaws, screenplay by Peter Benchly (based on his 1974 book, Jaws) and Carl Gottlieb, directed by Stephen Speilberg, is a typical and excellent example of the expression of the External Shadow as being “out there” and an entity unto itself. The shark and deep water are, of course, indicative, metaphorical and representative of phobic fears. The three main characters, Brody, Hooper and Quint, also bring elements of Personal Shadow into the story arc. Each experiences his own “Shadow Journey” so to speak, as a result of confronting the External Shadow personified by the shark. The story is also marvelous in that it expresses the traditional hero myth or fairy tale form in a modern way that allows us to experience the fear and find the courage and fortitude to confront and deal with The Shadow.

Comedy & Tragedy: The Yin &Yang of The Shadow

The Masks, or Personae, of Comedy and Tragedy
The Masks — or Personae — of Comedy & Tragedy.

The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites-day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end. — Carl Jung

Comedy & Tragedy is in every dramatist’s vocabulary. It should also be in every writer’s. A working perspective of The Shadow, or Shadow Content, sheds a new light on the concept of Aristotelian Comedy & Tragedy. And vice versa.

According to Aristotle’s Poetics, Comedy is “the story of the rise in fortune of an ordinary sympathetic character” while Tragedy “depicts the downfall of a basically good person through some fatal error or misjudgment, producing suffering and insight on the part of the protagonist, arousing pity and fear on the part of the audience.”

In other words, Comedy is the story of a sympathetic character whose life goes from bad to good with the element of protagonist wish-fulfillment, while Tragedy is the story of a sympathetic character’s life that goes from good to bad usually with tragic collateral damage. Comedy often, but not always, has a happy ending. Tragedy does not. But Comedy does not always mean “funny.” A Comedy can have tragic elements and make us weep, think Titanic or Gladiator, while a Tragedy can be darkly humorous, think Seven Psychopaths. In regards to Shadow Content and Comedy & Tragedy, we can look at it this way: in Comedy, the protagonist triumphs over Shadow Content, in a Tragedy the protagonist (and those around them) is destroyed by Shadow Content.

For example:


A Streetcar Named Desire-Tragedy

The Shining-Tragedy


Working with the Shadow as a Writer

A Writer's Shadow is his best friend.
A Writer’s Shadow is Their Best Friend.

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues. — William Shakespeare

First and foremost, a writer’s best friend is their Shadow. Get to know it, make friends, or at least allies, with it. However, refrain from falling in love with it. No one wants to read a writer’s personal self-indulgent Shadow rant. A writer’s job is to serve a story. A writer’s Shadow can and should inform the story, but not take over.

Second, get to know your character’s Shadow. When a writer knows a character’s innermost and intimate feelings, thoughts and impulses, that’s where the magic happens.

Third, avoid gratuitous Shadow. Shadow content that’s mean, violent or psychotic purely for the sake of itself, is not only boring, it is destructive, self-indulgent and dishonest. Dishonest because gratuitous Shadow has far more to do about the Shadow content of the writer, film creators and audiences of the genre, than it is of the actual story and/or the story’s character(s). Example: pornography, gornography or splatter.

Fourth, in opposition to the previous tip, avoid being “nice.” There’s no such thing as “nice.” Nice is also dishonest. Nice is a mask of the persona that hides Shadow content. Nice– and nice writing — often cover up flaws: pain, fear, shame, guilt and anger. But it also covers up attributes: passion, truth, beauty and love. “Nice” in story –and in life– is boring because without conflict nothing can happen. Find out what is underneath the desire to be “nice.” Is it a fear of expressing some truth or experience through writing story and character? Is it a revulsion toward an impulse or tendency in yourself, in a character? Or is it just plain loathsome to “kill your darlings?” When writers dispense with being “nice”, they are able to”stick-it” to their characters and suffer right along with them. It’s an uncomfortable — but honest — place to be when writing.

Fifth, is the story Comedy or Tragedy? Does Shadow or Light triumph? Understand why. Serve your character and story: it will let you know. All the writer needs to do is to get out of the way and let it happen.

A Writing Exercise

In closing, here is a writing exercise that is useful in opening up Shadow: yours and your characters. Write down three things — attributes, issues, vices etc. — you find personally offensive or repulsive. Choose a character you know, like or admire, from your own writing, or from another story or situation. Write an internal or external monologue with your character talking lovingly, passionately or positively about one, or all of the three things you personally find offensive or repulsive. You can do the reverse as well: three things you find personally rewarding and a character you like and admire talks about how they find those three things repulsive or morally offensive. This exercise begs for variety. For example, try it with a character (or person) you despise. This exercise is particularly useful in generating ideas or a more intimate and paradoxical dynamic between protagonistic and antagonistic perspectives.

The use of the writer’s Personal and Collective Shadow in writing ensures that the writer is not playing “nice” or “safe” and therefore character and story become honest and real.

If it doesn’t move the writer, it won’t move the reader.

Works Cited and Resources for the Writer

Aristotle. Trns., Sachs, J. Poetics. Newburyport: Focus Publishing R. Pullins Co. 2006.

Frager, R., Fadiman, J. Personality and Personal Growth. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
6th Edition. 2005.

Jung, C-G., Ed. Shamdasani, S. The Red Book Liber Novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2009.

King, S. On Writing. New York: Pocket Books. 2000.

Peck, S. People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York:Touchstone. 1998.

von Franz, M-L. Shadow and Evil in Fairytales. Dallas:Spring Publications, Inc. 1987.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Joslyn Robinson, MFAW. Writer/college instructor. Focus: genre fiction, transpersonal psychology, myths and fairytales. Visit at

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  1. Magen Gorman

    Thank you RJ Wolfe, this is very clear and sums up The Shadow. I am going to pass this to my writing students.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Hi Magen,
      Thanks for reading! I am honored that you will be passing the article on to your students. The Shadow is a tricky and painful, but enlightening, aspect of the creative process in writing.
      RJ Wolfe

  2. The dead wife of the protagonist in Inception is without a doubt the Shadow.

    • Hi clime,
      I have only seen Inception once- and it was a while ago- and so cannot remember the situation clearly enough to comment. I will watch it again with the intention of analyzing the protagonist’s wife.
      Thank you! And thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. This is really helpful in making a path for the development of my characters. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Hi Eddie,
      I am so glad the article may help you in your writing. That’s what it’s all about! Thanks for reading.

  4. Navarrete

    Thanks for the great article. Your examples bring the archetype to life for me.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Hi Navarrete,
      The Shadow Archetype is very much an alive entity. The more we can acknowledge and embrace its existence–both personally and artistically–the better: for our own struggles to understand ourselves, and the human condition in general.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Definitely. When the writer understands the archetypes represented in their characters, they strengthens the reader’s connection to the outcome of the hero’s journey.

      Something for all of us to remember and apply to our work.

  5. Tamar Bunting

    This is the kind of stuff we learn in school and conveniently forget once we get out in the real world until we learn them from someone who can write about it in this intriguing way. Nice job.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Hi Tamar,
      Thanks for reading and the comment. Yes, no one wants to talk about The Shadow in “the Real World” and yet there it is: Realer than Real and looking us dead in the face from every angle.
      Hope you found the article was illuminating and uplifting in spite of being about “The Dark Side”.

  6. dinerclub

    Gives me an idea for a character I’m penning… “internal villainy”. It is an interesting concept. Didn’t have a phrase for it before.

    • Hi dinerclub,
      “Internal Villainay” How wonderful! We all have it, too, no matter who we are and where we come from! No one is exempt.
      Thanks for reading the article and the comment.

  7. Great ideas here and awesome analysis. Thanks!

  8. “Within the shadow lies the gold of our potential and fulfillment”

  9. Shiva P.

    I enjoy discovering (and creating) characters who are complex, contradictory and unpredictable. I think inside we are all like this and reading about characters that embody these traits is somehow pleasurable and cathartic.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Hi SHiva,
      I think for me the pleasure from catharsis can only occur when the tragedy is honest and natural and flows from the organic Shadow Content of the story and its characters.
      I often think that Harry Potter should have stayed dead, though I applaud Jk Rowling’s daring in allowing beloved characters to die which allowed her readers to suffer in an honest meaningful way.
      Thanks for the comment

    • I think a lot of times, we as authors forget to keep it simple. We’re so good at creating complex characters, sometimes we go a bit overboard.

      • Darin Nunez

        I love the idea of simplifying characters. I used to create detailed character sketches, but then they’d change as the story unfolded around them. Now I write a paragraph or two about the my characters and let them reveal more about themselves throughout the story or when I put them in situations.

  10. Peralta

    This is one of the best posts I have read in a very long time. Your source material gives it great weight.

  11. Else Easley

    Very interesting and informative post. Thanks for posting it.

  12. Iola Whitney

    I love the shadow character. Particularly more twisted, the more demented, the better. I especially love the sick manipulative ones. Heroes are boring, until they turn.

  13. I have so much to say about this subject but you covered it really well!

  14. Leclair

    Thank you, very informative. Gives a better understanding on how to create a story with this type of character. Stephen King is surely the king in this.

  15. Tien Alfaro

    I would think that Darth Vadar was a rival and the dark side of ‘the force’ was the shadow.

  16. Schofield

    Nice post – i’m doing some research into shadow characters for some of my presentations and found this really useful.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      I am glad you found the article useful and helpful for your presentations. That is part of the intention of this type of article writing: to make it informative and useful as well as interesting and engaging.
      Thanks for reading and your comment.

  17. Wow, this is a way of looking at the “shadow” that I’ve never heard of/considered before.

  18. CriticalOtaku

    Really interesting article. I never knew the use of shadows could be categorized like this in writing–for me it’s always generally been associated with creating a sense of drama or heightened tension

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Yes, looking at dramatic writing in terms of Shadow Content has helped me in developing a deeper understanding of craft/structure: inciting incident, creating tension and raising stakes, all based on an awareness of and accessing the place of Shadow that lies within the characters and beneath their actions. It makes finding wants and needs and creating conflict a whole new experience.
      Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment.

  19. Nice balanced post.
    Thank you.

  20. Sandling

    I was well into my novel before I realized that my antagonist was a shadow type character. I spend weeks walking around town with this character in my head, trying different ways to make it interesting.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Sounds like you need to stop thinking, get your character out of your head and onto the page! Put the critic in a box and the box on the shelf and let the character and story out of the closet.

  21. I’ll be thinking about this concept for a while. Cheers for the writeup.

  22. The shadow archetype is not necessarily negative.

  23. Leif Betz

    Great look at a complex topic.

  24. YuSeaton

    A very good and informative post Joslyn.

  25. HyoRhoads

    Very enlightening piece.

  26. I really like the ideas of writing characters from the point of views of the, well, characters! Sometimes I fell that even though we as writers create these beings, that they know more about themselves than us.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      It is a scary and thrilling place to be when a character truly becomes a living breathing thing. This is when you have to let go and let them guide the story, and you just take dictation, and all your well laid plot plans go into the trash.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  27. RoxyRupp

    This remind me to dig deeper when it comes to character development. Thanks.

  28. Loved this. Thank you so much.

  29. I must admit, out of all the ideas between opposites, the idea of the shadow is far by the most complex. I’m probably gonna have to read this over to get a better understanding. Anyway, thanks so much for giving advice.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Yes, the Shadow is by far one of the most complex concepts. And your observation about opposites is astute. The rational (conscious) mind likes to think of things, organize things, in terms of “opposites” Good and bad, light and dark, etc. But in the unconscious mind, there is no opposite, so that’s where the conflict arises.
      Great observation,

  30. I enjoyed this post.

  31. Taryn Krebs

    You’ve really given me lots to think about in deepening my writing. Thanks so much!

  32. I would be interested to know your thoughts about Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, which you listed in your bib.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Hi Maureen,
      I first read the book about twenty years ago after reading The Road Less Traveled and both books have greatly informed and influenced my perspective on psychology, spirituality, good and evil.
      People of the Lie is an uncomfortable and deeply disturbing book, but it is also an informed book and in the field of psychology, specifically psychiatry, it is daring: Peck’s observations on Human and Demonic Evil are thorough and follow the scientific model of research and theory. It is a book one never forgets. I have studied Shamanisms and psychopathology and like Peck’s observation on Demonic possession and psychosis, there is also the same accounting in the spiritual crisis of the shamanic initiation and a schizophrenic episode.
      Fascinating stuff.
      Great question. Thanks for reading.

  33. Thanks for this great guide!!

  34. The shadow is everything that is repressed.

  35. Great post! Really enjoyed your guides.

  36. Joe Manduke
    Joseph Manduke IV

    I have always enjoyed the concept of the dark side. Often the villain is the more interesting of the two. Often darkness of any time fuels the conflict of the story and life as well.

  37. Shadow does not seem to be darkness that co-exists with light, as absence of light, or as interdependent coexistence even. Representing darkness as black and light as white even though co-existing seems a slightly superficial visualization. In a room full of light anyone’s ability to see selective things in the room is light, yet without anything being in dark/shadowy there – It seems things present in that light yet unseen are shadows. Light is when listening, seeing abilities are honed to find meaning, make a sense from everything around.

  38. I am always in need of a little enlightening on Jung for my writing. This was an eye-opening summary of an important element of character building that is so fundamental, and yet (in my case) is easily glossed over until the revision process — at which point it’s a nightmare to work out. Thank you for the exercise. I sense that it will become fundamental to my process from here on!

    • Joslyn Robinson

      I think that, as writers, it is easy (or easily glossed over) to forget that no matter how great the idea, concept, setting or plot we have for a a story, it is ultimately character that matters most. Without a “real” character, there can be no “real” story. And like “real” people, characters also have a psychology: good and bad, light and dark.

      Thanks for reading and the comment.

  39. I like this concept and puts in context much of how we learn to dance with those shadows.

  40. Visenya

    This is an excellent article, thank you for sharing. The shadow has been a topic run rampant in my imagination since I first began to study Jung. I began reading horror such as Stephen King from a very young age and I appreciate the way in which you link the Shadow to literature and writing.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      Yes, I was also deeply influenced be King’s writing, specifically his early work. He has a way (as he puts it) of getting “skin on skin” intimate with his characters that brings us into uncomfortable (and unforgettable) intimacy with them.

  41. great article!

  42. I really enjoyed your work. It summed up the aspects of the shadow without beating the reader up with terms, jargon, or extraneous details. It has given me a few more reasons than I had previously thought up for why the trilogy I’m working on right now is so important and also helped to explain possible ways for why I decided to write on such a controversial, taboo topic.

    On a side note, I loved the writing exercise idea. In exchange, one that has helped me in the past is to visualize your character in your head and place him/her in a difficult situation (dangerous, emotionally strained, fearful, tense, or other) and examine how s/he responds physically to the stress.
    Does one finger start to twitch, does s/he repeatedly put on more lip balm at intervals, blink more than usual, sweat, blush, flare the nose at ultra tense points in the scene, get antsy, punch a wall or throw objects, wrap themselves in a hug or other closed position, tap a foot, twist a bracelet, flip the keys on his/her lanyard or do something else entirely?
    I find it enables me to a) gauge the physical reactions of a character and b) gives me a visual cue as a point to begin analyzing why the character is reacting to the stressful situation in such a manner and what else this might suggest about the character as a whole.

    • Joslyn Robinson

      That is a great writing exercise. It makes a character’s “flaw” very real and individual to the character, and not a stereotypical tack-on.

      Thanks for the idea!

  43. Andie

    Great advice for all writers, and a thought-provoking piece all-around. Thanks for this.

  44. Ahhh this is really cool! Gives great advice on how to develop characters. I’m glad I read this, it is super helpful for me.

  45. This was very interesting. I’ve heard of the Jungian shadow before, but I’ve always found the concept to be a bit abstract and difficult to wrap my head around. Something that popped into my head just now while reading this was how the idea of having an anima/animus could relate to transgender people; perhaps Jung would consider being transgender a result of a dominant shadow (i.e. a dominant anima/animus). Anyway, that was just a related thought that came to mind.

    Also, thank you very much for that writing exercise. I felt like it helped everything else to click into place; I’ll be using it a lot in the future!

  46. Joslyn Robinson

    Thank you for the well thought out (and thought provoking) comment.
    I have also given much thought to the concept of Jung’s anima/animus in regards to gender identity and sexuality. Absolutely fascinating and it makes a whole hell of a lot of sense as well as a possible avenue for understanding the diverse and complex nature of human sexuality and gender orientation.

    Thanks again.

  47. Francesca Turauskis

    Always interesting content from you. I love the idea of the writing exercise at the end – I will definitley be using that in my next writer’s group! Thank you 🙂

  48. Adnan Bey

    When I did a minor in psychology, I was also given the shadow conscious. Pick someone in your life, of your same gender, and name five things you hate about that person. These things exist in yourself and make up your shadow. I have a similar way in writing characters, inner monologues, conversations, and flaws or intelligences that compose who they are and will be. This was a very enlightened and thoughtful article and well done and wording it fantastically.

  49. conorsmall

    Pretty interesting stuff here. It’s important that we bring this sort of material down to earth, I think, and put it in layman’s terms so that everyone can come to grips with their discomforts and darker sides. I mean, your writing experiment is a good stab at that; and I think identifying shadow material as a resource for creative writing is the worth of this entire post. We can take this conversation out of the realm of the mystics (Jung, Campbell, etc.) and into an accessible sphere of psychology and fiction (certainly King, but I see echoes of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Erikson’s identity formation in this chatter as well).

  50. Fantastic! As a young writer struggling to find his voice I found this article immeasurably helpful. I will undoubtedly return to it many times for insight.

  51. Nof

    Very well written! I’m a little surprised that I’ve never heard of this before but this was very informative and I learned a lot. I’m glad I got to read this piece. Thank you for sharing.

  52. WKBrooks

    Fascinating article! I would be very interested to hear what you think on the conflict between the pro/ant-agonists in No Country for Old Men. I once read an opinion on the book noting that McCarthy uses both Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh to subvert the normal expectations we have of pro/ant-agonists in that Moss comes upon fortune through unsuspecting though dark means. On the other side, Chigurh comes to represent the unrelenting yet oftentimes random or meaningless violence in the world.

  53. jriffle

    I’ve always attempted to get at darker themes with the characters I create, and it always ends up half-hearted. After reading your article, I’m beginning to wonder if I am too “nice” to characters. I’ll definitely be giving that writing exercise a whirl!

  54. I recently encountered the concept of The Shadow, and though i’m familiar with what an archetype is and what it represents, I realized that I’m not too familiar with the Jungian archetypes. I think your explanation and contextualizations of The Shadow, as well as the Animus/Anima, were thoughtful and helped to clarify these concepts for me.

    I also think that your exercise will make for some interesting fiction, which my own writing currently lacks. Thank you for sharing!

  55. Really liked the article, and I love writing, reading and watching horror so it definitely struck a good bell with me. It made me think of how every writer projects their own Shadow (fears) into their stories.
    Edgar Allan Poe – Insanity
    Stephen King – Isolation

  56. Emily Deibler

    Really effective post. Long ago, I read an article about how the villain can often be conceived as the hero’s Shadow. I love the writing exercise you’ve provided!

  57. A really great article, thank you. It actually inspired me to write about horror as a thing, or at least as a slumbering force, instead of horror as in a mere monster or whatever.

  58. I really enjoyed this piece–giving life and devoting attention to the ugly. Ugly beauty, really. A lovely, dynamic relationship if we get it right!

  59. I fond this article interesting, helpful and practical— and I loved the quotations.

  60. Informative piece. I am excited to try the writing exercise.

  61. A very useful writing exercise at the end! Have been struggling with this concept lately.

  62. This article gives voice to one of my favourite aspects of character development. Working to give a full range of qualities, insights, and feelings to a character is such a thrilling process. Coincidentally, developing the darker sides of a character – or even fleshing out and analyzing characters by other writers – tends to be a challenging exercise for me. This piece gives a clear run-down of some of the trickier parts of writing (and interrogating) the shadow.

  63. Think about how to present data or information effectively. Tables or figures can be useful presentation tools.

  64. Of course, I had work with my shadow for the past 7 years. It resulted in 3 book published in Create Space, now which me luck in the following seven years of creativity. My shadow and I are one while I live, once I am death there is not need for shadowing anymore. I can see reality!

  65. I feel like the idea of a Shadow is much more creatively freeing than the idea of an antagonist. I find that the idea of a polar opposite, or oppositional force is useless. I find if a character faces self hate, the best opposition is someone who agrees with the character. The best villain for a man who feels out of place within his race is a racist. A good villain for a hero on the verge of letting go is a man who already let go. The best villain for a man who always tries to do the right thing is somebody that obscures what’s right and wrong. I think a Shadow, or repressed desire is the best type of opposition a story can have.

  66. Marci2017

    Very interesting story. I love “the Matrix”

  67. sanfranciscowebdesign

    hmmmmmm… that was interesting read

  68. Thanks for exploring the use of shadow in writing. An interesting twist to thinking about shadow as an opposite, for example love/hate is to consider the shadow as what is lacking. Specifically love/fear. The shadow is fear and how that motivates versus love and how that motivates actions and reactions. A shadow also lacks substance, it is not real, it is cast. How can this be reflected in character development of the villain or antagonist?

  69. The wonderful David Jauss has a great chapter on contradiction as the lever of transcendence, where he pinpoints the way great writing or characters contains contradictory aspects … and transcend our immediate, short-focus either/or thinking.

  70. After months and months of writer’s block, finding an article like this really helped me jog my inner writer!
    It’s one of the best articles I’ve read on the Internet in quite a while!

  71. A thought provoking article- I shall read it again soon as it contains much to mentally chew on. I’m not sure that I entirely agree with your premise that a character’s flaw stems from or is his/her shadow.A character’s flaw can be a weakness, or fear, or inability to act, (for example), but doesn’t necessarily stem from something ‘dark, primordial or subconscious.’ A character flaw can be something much more mundane eg a dislike of the washing up -which can then lead to serious trouble :-))

  72. Bodhi 心

    This a fascinating subject and a great article. Writing likeable characters who are expressing the collective shadow is one of my core ambitions as a writer, so I look forward to trying the exercise. I think it’s really important for our collective psychological progress to engage empathetically with characters we would otherwise despise. It makes me think of Ignatius from “A Confederacy of Dunces”, who was deplorable but expressed much of what we all feel about the modern world.

  73. Good post though. This is a thing I learned from school.

  74. Hafizullah Nadiri

    I loved the part about avoiding being “Nice”. Thanks for this inspiring article. Since I am not a story writer, was interested in knowing if we can use The Shadow concept as well in scholarly/academic writings?

  75. Such an interesting article, Ive never really learned about this concept, it was nice!!

  76. Great read, and brilliant quote.

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