There is darkness in each of us.
For some, it’s a shadow. The kind of thing you turn around to spot and it’s gone. That one time you write the answers for a test on your wrist. The lies you’ve told your mother. For others, it’s more of a cloud. Looming, weighting the air and shading everything in gray. The people you’ve hurt with the flick of your tongue. The decisions you’ve made and regretted. Then there’s the blackness, the all-consuming darkness-- Sao Paulo, the hospital fire, Dreykov's daughter. The body count. The blood stains you can’t bleach away.
Everyone has secrets.
The secrets we conceal inform our actions. We are what we hide. What we choose to reveal and how we reveal it shapes us. These are the lies we tell ourselves, the things we cover up, the fears we drive into the hollows beneath our hearts. We live, hoping that no one will ever know the truth.
So let’s talk about it.
Darkness is important. Characters who lack any form of darkness come off as a Mary Sue. Flawless, and yet incapable of holding a reader’s attention for too long. As writers, it is up to us to determine our character’s degree of darkness. We run the risks of making our characters too soft or too evil, depending on how we reveal the information.
Harry Potter is sometimes at risk of falling into a Mary Sue category. But his troubled past and tendency to get himself into precarious situations make him someone we can spend a few thousand words with. We know how he got his scar immediately, but it isn’t until the final book that we can appreciate how it changed him, how it informed his decisions, how it made him the man he becomes.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown reveals Tana’s childhood in pieces, just enough so we understand why she is willing to go the lengths she does to flirt with darkness. Holly Black bends Tana, but doesn’t break her. Black pushes boundaries. The tongue-biting kiss haunts me. It’s something I didn’t quite expect. It’s something I wanted to happen. It’s something that horrified me. It revealed a black wish within Tana and changed the way I looked at her for the rest of the novel. Had Black allowed that to happen even a page sooner, it wouldn’t have worked.
In I’m Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, John Cleaver’s self-awareness and openness about his darkness helps the reader connect to him and sympathize with him, despite his tendencies. We know from the first few pages the kind of person John is, and yet we can’t help but like him. We, are capable of forgiving a multitude of sins, provided the information is presented in the right way.
In S.H.I.E.L.D, we're in the business of finding, keeping, and using secrets. Half of my missions are spent manipulating people’s darkness to my advantage; playing a new character. I know how far I’m willing to go, how far I’m willing push others. You learn to read people, to get out what their hiding without losing too much of yourself in the process. My job is constant self-revision. I make myself a new person, a new character for each mission. But despite the number of times I have rewritten my story, it’s still me. My darkness is at its core. I can’t edit out my sins. But I can use them.
And I will.