Guilt and Gratitude as a Novel Premise

The sequel to my first novel [soon to be a major something or other!!!] centers around the effects of guilt, both felt and denied, and the effect of gratitude in dispelling guilt and reversing its effects.  I did not know this until I had written a few thousand words, and started to try some outlining and brainstorming.

 I’m not an outliner, very much seat-of-the-pants muddle along writer, but I wanted to get this draft cranked out a in fewer than two years, preferably six months. So I’ve been trying James N. Frey’s Damn Good Novel techniques and Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake. But I could not figure out what my main character wanted–she had her wish granted, but the Happily Ever After just hadn’t kicked in for her.  She was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But another character, the male lead, had a serious guilt problem–his girlfriend ODed, and he felt responsible. 

Then I had a conversation with my favorite poet and spiritual advisor, Chris Wilkerson, about guilt, and he told me that the opposite of guilt was gratitude. The scales fell from my eyes and I saw how each of the characters from opus one had regrets and s’psostas  that they hadn’t worked through.

But one character in particular was grateful for her wish coming true, and she did not find herself stuck worrying about the past or the future. That was when I knew my premise:  Only gratitude can release one from the imprisonment of guilt.

Seems like a worthwhile idea to explore,  a serious message. Now all I have to do is to find funny ways of expressing it without preaching and without being obnoxious.  I saw the Eight Reindeer Monologues this weekend, and it taught me a strong lesson about parody not being necessarily the most effective way to get a message across.  I do not ever want someone to laugh when one of my characters says “I gave at the office. I was raped.”

But that’s a blog for another day when I have less to think about.  Today I am thinking about my own denied guilt and how the ways I get stuck are tied to guilt and denial. And I am thinking about gratitude and how many things for which I am truly thankful, even though Thanksgiving was last month.  It’s still Hallowthankmasnewbowl Season.

Is there a good guilt, different from remorse at being caught, and is there any value in it other than its push to repent and find redemption in forgiveness?

Can one forgive oneself, truly and deeply, not denying responsibility but allowing and accepting the past as it is?

Is wallowing in guilt worse or different from denial that guilt or responsibility exists?

Can one truly learn to be grateful for the mistakes that one has made, in order to see the growth that was prompted by the mistake?

Theses are the questions which I will pose to my characters and see how they will respond.

After all, response-ability is different from guilt. One who is guilty has no ability to respond or to act unless there is redemption from without and gratitude within.

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