1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Depicting contained/withheld guilt

    Discussion in 'Research' started by CMastah, Jan 24, 2015.

    I need help depicting someone containing his guilt. The scene is that the character is walking through a village being massacred and I don't want to hit the reader over the head with the character's guilt, I want them to suss it out by the man's physical state and his ticks. I was thinking one example would be that he takes a deep breath as he realized he'd been holding his breath. Whereas in normal sections (he's not an MC) I mention how the character feels in regards to certain things (and show it), I'm intentionally being vague here.
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    A few ideas: -

    ...she looked at him desperately as he passed. He averted his eyes and walked on.

    ...his eyes glistened...

    He rounded the wattle and daub cottage and discovered that he was alone. He slumped against the wall and took several steadying breaths. He then visibly gathered himself and returned into the heart of the village.
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I suspect this is going to be reliant on context, and what the reader already knows of the character. The reaction might be different depending on the degree of his guilt and his attachment to the village. A stranger's reaction would be significantly different than someone who grew up amongst the villagers.
     
  4. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    To grant context, the character is (supposed to be) assumed by the reader to be an evil person, and that person has been living in the village for almost a decade and a half. Here it's hinted to the reader that there's more to the character than was originally shown.
     
  5. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it is a non technological society, massacres don't smell good at all. Perhaps he suddenly finds the stench unbearable even though it wouldn't normally bother him. Or one of the villagers he knows well runs towards him for help even though the villager is already dying from his or her wounds and he automatically reaches out before snatching his hand back guiltily.
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends on the character. Guilty people can react many ways - sometimes they can avoid eye contact and slink away. They don't want to face what they've done or are doing. Sometimes to shield guilt a person will turn on someone and rage at them, putting the blame on them.
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, this is where you start visualising. Imagine yourself in this character's shoes. Walk through that village, and see what he sees. Feel what he feels. Do this until you KNOW the answer to your question. Pretend to be that character. Don't worry so much about how to depict guilt/containment. Get yourself there to experience it. Then you'll know what to do. The trouble is, if you look at this too clinically at this stage, you're likely to come up with things like facial tics and breath-holding, etc, which seem unconvincing.

    Is he in any way responsible for this massacre? Are these people being massacred known to him personally? Is this a village he knows personally? Is this the KIND of village he knows personally? (If so, he can think about how he'd feel if this were happening to his own home town.) Is this massacre the result of some ideological cause that he's been supporting? Do any of the massacred people remind him of people he knows? And what about the people doing the massacre? Are they his friends? Has he been forced into this situation? Does he feel the need to hide his feelings for fear of retaliation? Or is he the leader of the people perpetrating the massacre?

    If you can get yourself into this guy's head and walk through the town with him ...even if he's not your POV character when you actually write the scene ...you will have a much better handle on how he might behave.
     
  8. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    To grant further context:

    Yes, he ordered the massacre and he's lived in the village for eight years (friendly, pacifist village). Up to this point, in flashback sequences he's shown as worrying and caring for the villagers (whom he treats as friends), although he appears cold/evil in CURRENT sections.

    I've so far had it that he focuses on the sounds of his boots to drown out the noise around him, he stops to inhale as he realizes he'd been holding his breath and he looks at his hand which is shaking. When the blood on his blade drops on to his hand (the blood of the villager who had saved his life initially, and then become a good friend), it shakes harder. I'm not entirely sure I'm happy with this paragraph of events because I'd rather have him control his guilt better, because he does what he believes he has to. During the massacre, he shows a soft side to two of the children that he eventually kills (he kills one child while his (the child's) eyes are closed, and the other one after waiting for it to fall unconscious from blood loss, he spoke to them softly to calm them down before taking their lives).

    What the reader ISN'T told (but I might include this in a flashback) is that he's done this before (although the prior times were on orders, THIS time he's doing it for a purpose he believes in). This is why I want to show him controlling his emotions better, because he's experienced this before (although I don't want him to act on things the reader wouldn't know/wouldn't have reason to suspect), in addition to him truly believing in his purpose (he's not killing the villagers because they're evil, it's to prevent a chosen one from rising so to speak).
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, what you need to do is put yourself in his shoes. Knowing his background, pretend this is you. You are the one with this history. You are the one who has befriended people and then killed them for a cause. You are now walking through the village. You are the leader of the people doing the massacre. So ...what are you doing to contain your guilt? Shaking hands and holding breath seems ...a cliched response. Do a bit of visualising instead. You might well surprise yourself with what you (acting as this character) would actually do in this instance.

    Also, is this in his POV? Or is somebody else relating this portion of the story. If you can get inside his head, this gives you more scope.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Blaming the victims (in voice and thoughts) can indicate he is quashing his own guilt.
     
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  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    If I were this man, I'd find myself trying to justify my actions such as 'They were the enemy' or, 'I was just following orders, it was for a good reason...' or, 'If I help these people now, my soldiers will think I'm turning traitor'. I would be staring at the sky, the buildings, anything that didn't remotely look like a human...like me. I would berate myself for going soft now that I was in it too deep. I would try to recall certain people in the village that I didn't like and try to comfort myself with the thought that they got what they deserved.

    If you wanted, you could have him spare the children by instructing them to hide somewhere until he and his men left. That way he could try to assuage his guilt by saying that some of them survived, so he's not really a monster.
     
  12. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    He's actually a utopia justifies the means kind of guy, it's why he's doing this (although he knows he's committing mass murder), plus he's not following orders, he GAVE the order. He's entirely aware that they don't deserve to be killed (really, for ANY reason), but he's doing it to prevent a certain person from appearing. Due to this reason, he's even personally killed two children himself (and revealed to his troops where a large amount of children would be hiding).

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans

    @jannert , One thing I DID do, was when he killed a villager that he personally cared for in a paternal sense, he thought to himself of how the village had proven that it could give rise to the chosen, and how this character had shown tendencies that meant SHE could've been a possible chosen (the chosen thing isn't a being of evil). He ESSENTIALLY blames the tribe, but not in a 'they had it coming' kind of way, more 'I just kill just THESE people, and I can achieve my utopian goals'. This flashback is in his POV (there are also other flashbacks, but THIS one, is presented as a nightmare. There's also a character in his vicinity when he awakens who can read emotions, who states to him that he's (the villain) clearly feeling guilt), in 3rd person.
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, so he's walking through this village in a nightmare, not in real lifeā€”and it's his POV. I'd say that makes your job easier, actually. Then you can concentrate on what he's feeling. Is what he's dreaming about actually what happened, or is the reality distorted in some way? He might feel that he can't move his legs, or that the blood on his hands is spreading over his whole body, or that every face he sees is that woman's face, or something like that. Maybe he's making strange noises when he wakes up, or he's crying or something like that?
     

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