It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to talk about my three favorite elves: Shame, Guilt, and Ho-Ho-Hope.
Those of you who follow this blog daily probably have gathered already that I’m going to follow up on two recent thought-provoking posts, one by Tom Bentley (“Shatter Your Characters”) on using shame and guilt to deepen characterization, the other by Donald Maass (“The Current”) on the implicit presence of hope running through all great stories. (If you missed either of these posts, I enthusiastically urge you to go to the links and check them out.)
What I will try to add to these two discussions is a technique for dramatizing shame and guilt in such a way that they provide not just elements of character, but generate an impetus toward positive action in the hope of some redemptive conclusion—a decisive act that seeks to remove the stigma of shame or guilt that is haunting the character’s life.
To do that, let’s revisit shame and guilt, and try to define them a bit more suitably for the purposes of writing dramatic fiction—by which I mean try to think about them in ways conducive to generating action, not just a sense of sin or self-loathing (two telltale reminders that Santa is, indeed, making a list).