The Abyss

Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

Hal Holbrook


Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche


 The interesting part of the process is developing the character, you know, why did he become that? Why is the guy a murderer, or why is this guy a pervert, or whatever he is. So that’s the fun part for me to delve into the abyss.

Brion James


These quotes all mean different things, but the theme should be clear.

That dark place that we dare not tread close to, lest we lean too far over trying to pierce the darkness and fall in. This is something that fascinates me, the dark spot in our psyche that has as much defining characteristics as living a life of happiness and love. Those secret thoughts that conquer our sanity and decency but lose out to habitual decorum. How that bottomless pit of the unknown shapes us.

I’m done being cryptic.

Seriously though, this is an aspect of human civilization that is oft ignored and tossed aside. Somewhere we convinced ourselves not to look into the abyss;  maybe we won’t see the monsters and thus they won’t see us, or maybe because we don’t want to see them watching us, or maybe we wouldn’t be able to stand the idea that they might be there and we can’t tell.

Which raises two question, the million dollar questions, what is the abyss and what are the monsters?

The monsters can be anything; perverse desires, suicidal thoughts, violent urges, homicidal day dreams, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc. The abyss is the dark place those thoughts or experiences live in, the bottomless well of thought and imagination consciousness tries desperately to pretend isn’t there when it skims over it like a lighthouse beacon. Or maybe it doesn’t……. for some people that would be the case, at which point I would say they are fairly obvious to tell apart from other people.

The abyss is a great writing tool for several reasons:

1) It actually exists in each one of us, seriously it does. Drawing upon inspiration from one’s own self can give you an edge in writing, it can also be like shaving with an invisible knife, careful not to cut too deep.

2) It is a magnificent way to define and explore characters in your stories.

If the protagonist hunts criminals in the dark of the night, knowing whether it came from his father instilling a sense of justice and virtue or from an abusive alcoholic father with a criminal past can be very telling of who the character in question is. It works the same way for the antagonist too. Sunshine and kittens works too, but to be fair the abyss is more interesting.

Tool wrote a song called Vicarious, it it falls along these lines. We like to see, hear, and talk about tragedies more than upbeat things, especially from a distance. Don’t believe me? Watch the news for five minutes, listen to an elderly person talk about how the world is going to hell and why. Something feeds from that negative energy, somewhere in our heads it clicks in place and makes wheels work. Maybe bad things happening to other people make us feel better about the bad thoughts in our head. Maybe we just like the shock and awe. Maybe I am talking crazy talk.

In my opinion it is different from person to person but it is there, the abyss and it’s monsters, wading in a sea of nastiness. Striving for attention, slithering unwanted into our consciousness like a snake. You want to know somebody; learn their fears, guilty pleasures, hidden desires, and unwanted thoughts. Know those and you know a person.




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