With this year's Halloweird Creepfest soon to come to an end, I am delighted to welcome back a fantastic author who has graced our presence on more than one occasion, Gail Z. Martin!
Indulging the Dark Side
Gail Z. Martin
It’s Halloween. Time to put on a mask. But in reality, most people wear a mask all year around. That mask is the way we present ourselves in public, and sometimes, even in private. Some people never take the mask off… ever.
Horror feasts on the dark side of human nature, and the face behind the mask. Crime dramas and murder mysteries also thrive by revealing the darkness beneath the façade. All good drama flirts with the concept, delving more deeply in some genres than in others. And as we have lost our innocence as a culture, we now expect to find some hint of a dark side even in our heroes, and cynically look for the shadows in those who desire to lead. In epic fantasy, magic and supernatural creatures often appeal to a character’s dark side. And urban fantasy’s fascination with things that are not as they seem—vampires, shape-shifters, and magical creatures who fool mortal senses—play to our fear of the dark side.
Often, social masks are protective coloration, so it’s intriguing to writers to strip them away and see what’s underneath. We project confidence, success, wealth, and certainty because we’ve been told that like attracts like. We’ve also learned, usually the hard way, that it’s dangerous to let most people see vulnerabilities. That includes insecurities, old hurts, self-doubt, fear, and weakness. Everyone has weaknesses, but most people spend a lifetime figuring how to hide them.
In many cases, those vulnerabilities have rational roots. People tend to be insecure if they don’t believe they’ve mastered something, or have not had that mastery validated by others. Fear is a logical response when facing a person or situation where we can sustain real damage. We know from watching nature that predators seize on weakness, so it’s instinctive not to show our soft underbellies. Shame is a huge motivation to deny the existence of the dark side, even to one’s self.
In general, a dark side is something concealed because on some level, the character knows that the desire or action is not legal, moral, or ethical, and would be disapproved of or punished if known. The bigger the gap and incongruity between the public face and the dark side, the more horrific the dark side seems. That’s why it always seems worse when someone we’re supposed to be able to trust, like a member of the clergy, a cop, or a teacher has a dark side that harms the people he or she should be protecting.
We tend to equate the Seven Deadly Sins with our dark sides: Pride, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, and Wrath. That’s because the dark side, our shadow self, has a lot in common with our Id. The Id is the product of the lizard brain, the primitive instinct, the utterly selfish desire. We can try to contain it and moralize it into quiescence, but it’s always there, lurking, looking for a way to get out. The dark side is strongest when its existence is denied. That’s why people whose identities are all bound up in looking good, having social respect, and standing in a place of moral superiority tend to fall the hardest to their dark sides, which they desperately deny, even to themselves.
Fear and scarcity can bring out the dark side. When a person fears for his life, when everything is on the line, he may reach into the dark side to tap into the jolt of temporary energy provided by the wrath lurking there. Zombie and apocalypse stories tap into this tendency, stripping away the social constraints that require us to wear our masks, giving us permission to take them off.
Where it gets interesting for me as a writer is when a character not only acknowledges his or her dark side but names it and owns it, refusing to look away or pretend it doesn’t exist. That act of courage drastically reduces the power the dark side has over a character. It would be naïve to believe that naming the darkness makes it go away completely, but if the dark side is named and owned, it can be monitored and safeguards can be created to control it.
Some of the best fiction places characters in jeopardy that strips away their resistance to the dark impulses, giving them a sequence of undesirable choices and rationalizations to tap into their dark side. We learn a lot about characters from where they draw the line in the sand, the point at which they would rather die than act in ways that they find morally abhorrent. And for those characters who fail to draw a line, who will do anything to survive, we watch in fascination, wondering which type of character we would be if put in a similar situation.
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat!
Details here: www.AscendantKingdoms.com
Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from Coffin Box, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/coffin-box/excerpt-from-coffin-box/
And a bonus excerpt from Wicked Dreams, another of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/wicked-dreams/excerpt-from-wicked-dreams/
And a second bonus excerpt from Ice Forged, Book One in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/ice-forged/an-excerpt-from-ice-forged-book-one-in-the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/
About the Author