"Writing without shadow has no depth."
I wish I had written down the source of that quote. It reminds me of the importance of including dark notes in my memoir along with the bright ones. It's so tempting to leave out those times when we didn't get the prize, when we were the last one chosen, didn't have a date for Homecoming, or felt despair of every finding love. Those are not fun stories to remember, much less to write, and not ones we generally care to share.
The graphic above says it all. Simple facts make a bland story. Adding some detail may brighten it up and vastly improve it. To make it pop off the page and become memorable and true, you need shadow. The interplay of light and dark is what gives it depth, mystery and magic. Darkness is the purview of fear and tension, keys to compelling stories.
As you can see from the graphic above, it doesn't take much darkness to give perspective and define the light. Below are a few simple tips like these to add a dash of darkness to your story.
Tell of failures as well as success — Besides the story of winning the spelling bee, tell how you were the last one picked for the fifth grade softball team.
Give an inside perspective — Don't just say you were the last one picked. Tell how it felt. "I stood there staring at my toes, praying to be struck by lightning, or at least to get sick enough to go home and hide in bed for the rest of the school year."
Admit to human frailties — Tell about times you broke a promise or twisted the truth.
Include doubts and fears —Highlight your walk across the stage to receive your diploma with the thoughts running through your mind, like "I never thought I'd make it. I was sure Mr. Frank would fry my sorry ass on that last term paper and test. That man hates me!" Better yet, tell about your struggles with Mr. Frank before graduation.
Show simple flaws — Occasional reference to thick glasses, knock-knees, shyness, stuttering, or some other simple flaw lends depth to your character (generally yourself). You needn't dwell on these things, or mention them on every page. Less is more, but some is great.
One of the best ways to master the art of the shadow is to read the work of established writers. Study how they describe characters. Look for the sources of tension. What keeps your interest? Try to incorporate your discoveries into your own work.
Write now: write a new story (or revise an old one) to sprinkle in a few dark elements. Share the story with a writer friend some other discerning reader and ask for their suggestions on how to improve the story.