In my last post, I talked about how to dramatize a character’s escape from the haunting effects of shame or guilt by seeking to regain the respect or obtain the forgiveness of the person most centrally connected to the humiliation or injury.
As I noted in the piece, however, and as many of you noted in your comments concerning your works in progress, it’s often impossible to achieve that respect or forgiveness for several obvious reasons: the person who can grant the reprieve is unwilling or unable to do so. Perhaps the person is dead. Maybe he’s hard of heart. Perhaps the events triggering the shame or guilt are so extreme that forgiving or forgetting is out of the question.
As I reflected on all this after the earlier posting, it occurred to me that many of the situations one encounters, both in life and fiction, are of this type, where there is no one person whose respect or forgiveness can complete the arc of transformation.
So what does a person—or a character—do in such a circumstance? How does one remove the stain of guilt or the cloud of shame when there is no one to turn to for clear-cut absolution?
A similar issue arises when the wound crippling the character’s soul isn’t caused by shame or guilt, but loss. How does one return to a “state of grace” when death, betrayal, rejection, illness, or some other misfortune turns one’s focus away from pursuing the promise of life, and instead points it toward protecting oneself from the pain of life?
The answer, interestingly enough, lies with the love story.