According to a newly published book, An Absorbing Errand: How artists and craftsmen make their way to mastery, by Janna Malamud Smith, Charles Dickens confessed to Dostoyevsky, “there were two people in him . . . one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite.” He drew from the one who was opposite to create his evil characters, while he used to the other one to live his live.

Says, Smith, “He attempted to channel into his fiction the parts of himself he despised, ‘his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love.’” This undesired part of himself was what he used to create vivid characters, and it “offered energy to all he wrote.”

We often shy away from our dark side, scared that if we create characters who are unseemly, cruel, and vicious, we may be giving something of ourselves away. Acknowledging through our characters our own shadowy fantasies leave us feeling naked on the page – even if what we write is beyond our own believes or desires. But it is by acknowledging both sides of our personalities – our friendly natured, kind side and our deeper, brooding, harsh side – that help us develop not just multi-dimensional and believable characters, but also more intriguing stories.

It is through the unleashing and subsequent melding of both sides of our personalities that we create an energetic synergism of sorts in our writing. Our dark side is full, as Smith notes, of raw emotion, which offers us a dynamic source of energy.

Here’s where you find it: Whenever you are writing and you come to a place that makes you want to stop out of fear, concern, a queasiness in your stomach, a buzzing in your head – move forward, go deeper, mine it for what it offers. You will be amazed at what you find and how it stengthens your writing, your story, and your characters. Breathe deeply through it, hold yourself steady, but venture forth in the spirit of discovery – and let it take you to a deeper level of writing you never knew you had.

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