When I was in sixth grade, I doodled a vampire in the margins of my math homework. My teacher made me erase it. She seemed horrified that I would want to draw something with fangs and horns (I had an interesting idea of what ought to be a vampire) when there were so many other things to draw–or better yet, math problems to solve.
I hadn’t realized I was drawing something frightening.
With that, and being a Christian and a natural optimist, I figured that the “creepy” stuff in my head needed to stay out of sight. I’d never watched horror films or anything, and didn’t generally think of myself as someone interested in scary things. The adults in my life said I wasn’t. I enjoyed doodling flowers and butterflies as much as doodling vampires, and I got into less trouble for the flowers.
Even now, I can talk about some of my favorite stories and fictional moments, only to find that everyone else thinks they’re creepy. The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The Dark is Rising. Dementors. Things like that. I might understand that there are frightening aspects to those stories, but they don’t usually seem super important to me.
Apparently I like dark things. Not for any particular reason. Darkness just interests me. I especially like it when it contrasts with light–when despair and hope collide, when the monsters force people to become their best selves. I keep that interest on a leash, but it’s always there. Just another, sometimes unpretty aspect of me that I have to work with.
My favorite moments in fiction tend to be the ones where our heroes are, or think they are, powerless. Vulnerable. I like those moments because they reveal what those characters are made of without all the pretenses and superpowers. And because they’re dark.
Besides, the darker things get, the brighter the happy moments are.
But how do we create that darkness in our own stories?
Maybe you read about current events to get into the proper mindset. Maybe you remember some nightmare. Maybe events in your own life are enough.
Me, I let my own natural darkness out of its closet.
However you do it, finding the darkness is important. Stories about little girls in an ideal Fairyland are all well and good, but the interesting ones have frightening things to go with the magical.
We all have light and dark inside us. Life is a mixture of light and dark. We might as well reflect that accurately in our stories, even the happy stories about magic schools or guardian angels. Those angels are guarding the hero from something, after all.