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Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous, Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Exercise, Writing Process

Guilt Without Context

English: Original Death Chamber at the Red Hat...

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Once I asked a friend of mine if he´s guilty.
– Of what? he asked with surprise in his face.
I shrugged my shoulders.
– I don´t know. Just guilty, are you? Or are you innocent?
He smiled, without knowing what to answer. That´s what people do when they don´t know what to say or do, they smile as if what just has been said would be some kind of joke. But it wasn´t.

If you´re hungry no one ever asks you “for what.”  But if you claim that you´re guilty or innocent they all have to know; Of what? This is interesting. My regular readers probably already know that I like to play around with things. Let´s play around with guilt without context!

Exploring the Truth of Guilt

Think of the word guilt without putting it into any context. You can chose to explore any word, any kind of value, but I have chosen the word guilt. What does it mean to you? How do you feel about that word? How does your body react to it? Is your heart affected, your blood pressure? Any tears? Are you smiling? Does it reminds you of any hardness, softness, warmth or coldness? What do you see behind your eyelids when thinking about that word? Guilt. Is there any colors, any formations? Does guilt has any taste? Can you describe that taste? How does it smell… guilt? Think of it from different points of views. An excellent way of doing that would be to use the writing exercise The Cube.

The Limiting Context

Now – when you have explored the depth of guilt and all its corners with your five senses –  ask yourself if you are guilty. Now you realize that it´s possible to answer that question without putting guilt into any context. For me, this is an important stage of my writing. As soon as I put anything into its context I put up boundaries. Boundaries are the same as rules, and immediately you have something called right, wrong, possible and impossible about guilt. Let´s take some examples.

Religion. According to (some) religions people are born with original sin. If that´s true there cannot be any innocent humans. Everybody are guilty, no matter context. According to (some) religions there is only one who can save all – God saves the people. If that´s true no human being can save another human being, there are no heroes. How many people have been celebrated as heroes during this century even thou the are not perfect (having their own guilt to carry on), and what would life be without them?

Judgement. The law and the courtrooms, the law enforcement, are all created by people and they cannot be changed from day to day. A law is a law, and everyone has to follow it. Humanity has to suit themselves to the laws, we have to obey. There is no freedom of choice, no place for creativity within the boundaries of law. How many people have been sentenced to death by a court of law, even thou they have proven to be innocent afterwards?

Social exclusion. People with guilt feel excluded, no matter if they exclude themselves or if they get excluded by others. Humanity gets divided between the guilty and the innocent, the good and the bad ones and between the successful and unsuccessful people. Again, there is huge limitation. Some people can do things others cannot do, because of the size of their guilt. Would you ever sit in a car again, if you had killed someone by reckless driving?

Your Definition, Your Context

Now let´s change the scene. Think of the world with all human beings we’ve been using as an example above and make the world to your story and the people to its characters. And make yourself God. When you write a story you want to start from scratch, having the freedom to do whatever you want. You want to write without boundaries, without limitations – or rather within the boundaries you created out of your own ideas. There are no religions, no judging, no laws within you books society, no natural laws, no nothing. Just close your eyes and use all your senses to explore the word guilt. When you´re done then you can start to create boundaries around that word on the platform of your own understanding of that word. Are you following me? You decide how you want to understand a word, and then you create the boundaries (laws, good and bad people, religions) that will control the story, its characters and plots in a way that suits your idea of what guilt is.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) got famous in 1873 after publishing a novel named Erewhon. Backwards the title is spelled nohwere, almost as the word nowhere. This is done with purpose. Butler created a word in his story, where the law enforcement works backwards; if you´re sick it means that you haven´t taken care of your self properly and you go to jail. But if you would happen to be a criminal it´s not your fault, you need care. Criminality is a sickness.

The only way Butler could have created this backward world in his novel is to use his own understanding of guilt and innocence. The novel presents his fantasies of right and wrong, guilt and innocence without ever considering the boundaries, social rules or laws within the society he lived in. Erewhon became a  novel everybody spoke of because it was a story that challenged the society.


Are you really making all the decisions when writing your story? Are you really creating your characters and plots from scratch? Or is there any part in your creative writing that comes from your preconceived opinions created by our society and the values we have in common? How much in your writing is your true you? What are you doing to write more truthfully, if anything? What´s true, according to you? How afraid are you when writing – afraid of offending people, afraid of being criticized because you did something in your writing that´s not appreciated by others?

About Magdalena Wiklund

Leg. biomedicinsk analytiker och maker. Arbetar med transfusionsmedicin till vardags, forskar på antibiotikaresistens på fritiden. Jag skapade Sveriges största site för biomedicinska analytiker därför att detta verkligen är ett fantastiskt yrke som jag hoppas att fler ska intressera sig för.


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