In his acclaimed novel, Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche once famously wrote “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” I came across these words recently after listening to a podcast from renowned, clinical psychologist turned motivational speaker, Dr. Jordan Peterson. These words knocked around in my head as I was wandering through the streets and dirt pathways of Graz, in Austria, last weekend. I pondered what do they really mean, especially the last part of this aphorism. Why does the abyss gaze also into you? How can the abyss look back into you?
Without getting mired into a long, complex philiosophical discourse, I want to share what gazing into the abyss means to me and how it relates to my writing. For me these words signify that if you look into subconscious depths of your soul you will discover your shadow. The dark part of you that is scary and malevolent, which is suppressed at the conscious level. In fact, often times we lie to ourselves by denying our shadow’s very existence. Yet if we reflect deeply enough our shadow will ‘gaze back’ at us reminding that we are capable of great evil. The worst of the worst atrocities that mankind has ever committed are a fundamental and inextricable part of us. Part of them, of you, and of me. When this realization hits is when you become fully aware that the abyss is gazing back into you.
And how you may ask does this relate to writing? For me it has everything to do with being an authentic and honest writer. It is important for character development to recognize that everyone has a good and evil side. Every character must have a flaw; some chink in their armour that makes them human. For to be human is to be imperfect and to err. Gazing into the abyss makes you keenly aware of this humbling truth.
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