Plotting Difficult Topics: Wickedness, Guilt

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Wickedness, Guilt/Shame

  • Wickedness, Guilt/shame, Testimony

    When her fingernail slit the plastic, a small thrill shot through her. The chocolate melting in her mouth–oh, chocolate, made specially to melt at body temperature, made specially to tempt the human body–pleased her. Coconut bits gave just enough crunch.
    But then came the hour of reckoning. Of a bowed head, of bright red cheeks. Mom made her try to sell the rest of the candies in the box to earn enough to buy a new box. It was a hour of begging: Please buy a piece. I only need ten more cents to buy a new box.
    It was an hour of a brother, a sister taking pity, pulling coins out of hiding, opening up their own budget books and recording: One piece of chocolate coconut candy, 5 cents.
    Humiliation was the flavor of the day.

  • Wickedness, Guilt/shame, Confession

    She looked at her budget notebook in dismay. The box of candy cost $1.50. But she only had $0.80. Where would she get another seventy cents?
    Mom said, “You’ll have to sell the other pieces. Today’s allowance day. See if any of your brothers or sisters will buy a piece.”
    She made a sign: Candy, 5 Cents.
    She sat the half-empty box on a table and propped up the sign. She didn’t remember how long she sat there.
    She had stolen her grandmother’s birthday gift and eaten half the candy. She deserved this.

  • Wickedness, Guilt/Shame, Therapy

    At that moment, she realized something about her mother. She was a hard woman, not given to forgiveness. But she realized something else, too. Sis was as unlike their mother as ever a child could be. Because Sis quietly pulled out her piggy bank, emptied it and in one quick act of mercy, she paid 75 cents for the rest of the candy. And then, she split the candy she’d bought into three piles: one for her, one for baby brother and one for me, her little sister. My Sis’s name in heaven must be Mercy.

  • Wickedness, Guilt/Shame, Transformation

    Stealing wasn’t hard. Hiding what she’d done wasn’t hard. Even getting found out (after brother tattled) wasn’t hard, either.
    The hard part was trying to make it right. The humiliation of sitting there, trying to sell the rest of the box. Begging stingy brothers to part with a nickel, when all they wanted was to tease and accuse and make the birthday celebration for Gran a torture.
    But she did sit there. She did get enough money. And when Gran came, Ma pushed her forward–she was chosen to give the box to Gran, got to see her smile and got to sit beside her small rose-smelling figure as she opened the box, took a deep breath of chocolate and smiled.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

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