Shadow Selves and Seeing Double

In the spirit of Fall peeking at us from around the leaf-strewn corner, the hint and constant threat in the news about El Niño waiting to pounce on us this winter, growing and swirling and billowing out there in the ocean…I want to wish you, Happy Coming of Dark Days!


Oh, El Niño. I imagine you as some freaky slow-motion water tornado, fish being swept up in your swirling mass, boats sailing in to you and disappearing into the coiling monster breathing both fire and assaulting rains. Threat, danger, darkness, shadows and the unknown.

El Niño
El Niño

Charles Baxter writes in Burning Down the House, of how the “shadow-self” within our stories and our characters reveal a sense of deep need hidden within the shadows. (THANK YOU, Carson Beker, for sharing this excerpt with us at your INCREDIBLE Escapery workshop, Boom!, in SF on Tuesday night!!).

YES YES YES. That is the stuff that fiction and drama feed on! The idea of there being parallel worlds/parallel selves co-existing, that intentions and actions, hopes and outcome are very different things. A “shadow-self…generated from envy and lodged in the mind when we argue against ourselves. The contrast of the shadow-self involves a secondary character who enacts what we have merely wished for, who is formed by the desires we have never done anything about.” And with that shadow, we are “seeing double…getting what you want at exactly the wrong time.”

I might maybe also add to this by saying that it’s not just about the desires that we have not acted on, but desires that we did not know we even had.


For this week’s writing prompt, try to write a story where characters not getting what they want….Try to push their wants to the breaking point all the way through to the end of the story.

Or, allow your character to get what they want, but at “exactly the wrong time.”

Or, write of a character who does not understand that what they are feeling is not simply anger, but a sense of great need. To add a little kick to this, try not to allow the character to know what it is that they need.

Questions  bunny pancake

Happy (Dark Days of) Writing!

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