Understanding the Shadows in Mind

From Ansen Dibell’s Plot (1988):

“[The eyes that matter are] your eyes, your coherent vision of what you’re trying to say and show. Whether you displace that vision into a narrator or have a viewpoint-protagonist who is a thinly disguised version of yourself, the job is the same: to see things whole and clear and true. To focus on what’s important and let the unimportant blur or drop out. To be a photographer of the mind, noting how the shadows are cast by your own private sun.

(The bolding is mine.)

I thrilled when I read this passage the other day. Dibell’s words were almost a validation for me.

When considering names for this blog, I used the same criteria I prefer to use for naming stories.

  1. Can it be interpreted in more than one way AND
  2. Do all possible interpretations fit the dominant theme(s) of the story?
  3. Is it unique? Or, will it remind people of something appropriately comparable?
  4. Is it understandable? Foreign words, slang or lingo, or a pop-culture reference is fun only if the intended audience knows the meaning.

“Shadows in Mind” met the first three criteria to my satisfaction. I wondered about the fourth, then decided most people’s guesses would match one of my interpretations; thereby, I called it good.

My interpretations were based on my goals for this blog: to document some of the electronic references I use for my fiction and occasionally share my triumphs and failures in writing.

Minding Details. I’m a hobby photographer, and I look for shadows in my photography. Shadows can enrich colors, restrict glare, create mood or a sense of direction, and act as the primary subject. They can also destroy a shot by distorting the balance or acting as a distraction. Therefore, they must be considered. Details are important. In fiction, an overly dark character or situation can distort the balance of the story, as if it was an overly dark portion of a photograph. I’ve thrown novels into pillows because of insufferably dark characters. (Why don’t they have any redeeming qualities?) Therefore, shadows are a detail that must be kept in mind.

Shadowy Characters. One day, I set aside my working notes in disgust and went to my fantasy and science fiction bookshelves then to my movie library. I wanted to know how I can write about murder, suicide, rape, teen sex, verbal profanity, neglect, and betrayal, among other things. The answer partly lies in my favorite novels, as well as my favorite movies. Personal experience and the secrets people have shared with me supplemented books and movies to allow me to create gray worlds. Usually, the conflict in my stories isn’t between The Light and The Dark; rather, it’s between characters who have to choose between grays. They “live” with shadows in their minds, as I do.

Shadowed Truth. Most people hide their cores–the basis of their identities–not necessarily by choice. Many of us lie to ourselves about what is important and don’t notice we’re doing it until late in life, if ever. One responsibility of a writer is to show truth as (s)he sees it. These truths are jewels in shadows, waiting to sparkle in the light of attention.

Everyone creates shadows as they look for truth. The shadows are important, too.

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7 thoughts on “Understanding the Shadows in Mind

  1. Another great post!
    “it’s between characters who have to choose between grays.” this is wonderful!After all, life is full of grays!
    “One responsibility of writers, after the realization of writing’s importance, is to suggest truths”. Suggests truths. Offering stories.
    Oh, and it’s a nice blog name – whatever we each get from it. For me the shadows are the stories.

    1. Thank you!

      Do you see the shadows as stories because truths are hidden within them? Or is there another reason?

  2. I think that for me the stories are the shadows. They are always there, hovering, waiting to be told. Wanting to be brought out of the shadow.

    1. I get it now! That’s a lovely explanation. I feel the same way, that stories follow me, nebulous until I can give them form.

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