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Inspiration Decks Emotions 2024-03-14 00:00

Emotion: Guilt

Emotion Guilt

When you want to write the emotion guilt, it's important to "show" the emotion your character is experiencing through their physical reactions and dialogue, rather than "tell" it. In this article we provide you with inspiration so you can avoid showing instead of telling and immerse your readers in your story.

Guilt is a complex emotion that involves feelings of remorse, regret, and responsibility for a perceived wrongdoing. It is the sense of having done something wrong or failing to do something that one believes they should have done. Guilt is often accompanied by feelings of shame, self-blame, and a desire to make amends or seek forgiveness. It can be a powerful motivator for self-improvement and personal growth, but can also be a source of distress and self-punishment if not managed effectively.

Contents:
  1. Different Types of Guilt
  2. Situations Associated with Guilt
  3. Physical Reactions to Guilt
  4. Thoughts Associated with Guilt
  5. Atmosphere of Guilt
  6. Verbs Associated with Guilt
  7. Emotions Before Guilt
  8. Emotions After Guilt
  9. Telling Guilt Examples to Avoid
  10. Practical Examples of Showing Guilt
  11. Exercises for Showing Guilt

Different Types of Guilt

Here are some different types of guilt:

  • Survivor's guilt: Feeling guilty for surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
  • Parental guilt: Feeling guilty for not being a good enough parent or not spending enough time with your children.
  • Religious guilt: Feeling guilty for violating religious beliefs or principles.
  • Imposter syndrome: Feeling guilty for not being good enough or feeling like a fraud in your accomplishments.
  • Shame-induced guilt: Feeling guilty for violating societal norms or expectations.
  • Regret: Feeling guilty for past actions or decisions that had negative consequences.

Situations Associated with Guilt

Here are some situations where a character might experience the emotion of guilt:

  • Betraying someone's trust
  • Breaking a promise
  • Cheating on a partner
  • Failing to meet expectations (either their own or someone else's)
  • Hurting someone physically or emotionally
  • Lying or withholding the truth
  • Neglecting responsibilities or duties
  • Participating in illegal or immoral activities
  • Putting someone in danger
  • Stealing or taking something that doesn't belong to them

These are just a few examples, but guilt can stem from a variety of situations and events depending on the character's values and beliefs. It's important to consider the character's backstory and personality when exploring what might lead to guilt.

Physical Reactions to Guilt

Here are some physical reactions a character experiencing guilt might have:

  • Avoiding eye contact or looking down
  • Fidgeting or restlessness
  • Slumped shoulders or a hunched posture
  • Averting one's body away from the person or situation causing the guilt
  • Difficulty speaking or stuttering
  • Difficulty making decisions or being indecisive
  • Apologizing excessively or repeatedly
  • Self-blame and self-criticism
  • Increased heart rate or sweating
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding social situations or withdrawing from others
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as cleaning or organizing as a way to cope with guilt.

Keep in mind that everyone experiences guilt differently, so not all of these signs and behaviors may be present. It's also important to note that guilt can be a complex emotion that may stem from a variety of sources, such as personal values, societal norms, or past experiences. As a writer, it's important to consider these factors when creating a character experiencing guilt.

Thoughts Associated with Guilt

Here are some thoughts a character experiencing guilt might have:

  • I shouldn't have done that.
  • I wish I could take it back.
  • I can't believe I hurt someone like that.
  • What if they never forgive me?
  • I don't deserve forgiveness.
  • I'm a terrible person.
  • How can I make it up to them?
  • Why did I act that way?
  • I should have known better.

Atmosphere of Guilt

Here are some ways that you might reflect the emotion of guilt in the atmosphere of your scene:

  • Choose a setting that is dark or gloomy, such as a stormy night or a dimly lit room.
  • Use descriptions that highlight the character's discomfort or unease, such as cold sweat or shaky hands.
  • Incorporate imagery that evokes the character's feelings of guilt, such as a broken vase or a discarded item that holds significance.
  • Use language that emphasizes the character's self-blame, such as "I shouldn't have" or "I could have done better".
  • Show the character avoiding eye contact or fidgeting nervously, indicating their unease with their actions.
  • Use metaphors or analogies that reflect the character's feelings of guilt, such as feeling like a burden or carrying a heavy weight.
  • Have the character engage in self-punishing behavior, such as refusing to eat or sleep or engaging in self-harm.

Verbs Associated with Guilt

Here are some verbs commonly associated with the emotion of guilt:

  • Confess
  • Apologize
  • Repent
  • Regret
  • Remorse
  • Blame
  • Accuse
  • Self-criticize
  • Punish
  • Beg
  • Plead
  • Confide
  • Admit
  • Acknowledge

Emotions Before Guilt

Here are some emotions that may come before a character experiences guilt:

  • Shame
  • Regret
  • Remorse
  • Disappointment
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Doubt

Emotions After Guilt

Here are some emotions that may come after a character experiences guilt:

  • Shame
  • Regret
  • Remorse
  • Self-blame
  • Self-disgust
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Hopelessness
  • Self-doubt
  • Inadequacy
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Bitterness
  • Defensiveness
  • Withdrawal
  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Abandonment
  • Betrayal
  • Disappointment
  • Disillusionment
  • Loss of trust

Telling Guilt Examples to Avoid

Here are some examples of telling the emotion guilt in a sentence. You should avoid things like this:

  • He felt guilty for what he had done.
  • She was consumed with guilt over her mistake.
  • They couldn't shake the guilt that lingered within them.
  • He knew he had made a mistake and felt guilty about it.
  • She tried to push away the guilt she felt, but it persisted.
  • He couldn't help but feel guilty for the outcome of his actions.
  • She carried a heavy burden of guilt with her every day.
  • They were haunted by the guilt of their past decisions.
  • He tried to ignore the guilt that gnawed at him from within.

Practical Examples of Showing Guilt

Here are some examples of showing guilt in a sentence:

  • Sarah couldn't meet John's eyes after she lied to him about her whereabouts last night.
  • Every time he thought about what he had done, Jack's stomach churned and he couldn't shake off the feeling of remorse.
  • Samantha kept replaying the incident in her mind, wondering if she could have done something differently to prevent the accident.
  • The weight of guilt pressed down on Mark's shoulders as he realized the consequences of his actions.

Exercises for Showing Guilt

Here are some writing exercises to practice showing guilt:

  • Write a scene from the perspective of the character's conscience, personifying it as a separate entity that speaks to them about their guilt.
  • Have the character write a letter to the person they have wronged, expressing their regret and asking for forgiveness.
  • Write a scene where the character confesses their guilt to someone they trust, such as a friend or therapist.
  • Write a flashback scene that shows the event that caused the character's guilt, and explore their thoughts and feelings in the moment.
  • Write a scene where the character tries to make amends for their wrongdoing, but is met with resistance or skepticism from the person they have wronged.
  • Write a scene where the character is confronted by the consequences of their actions, such as legal trouble or damage to their relationships.
  • Write a scene where the character tries to rationalize their actions and minimize their guilt, but is ultimately unsuccessful in convincing themselves or others.

Want more help with showing emotion instead of telling? You find more help in our full set of emotions.

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