I Know What You Did Last Summer and Other Ways to Provoke Guilt

This week I finished reading I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. I also watched the pilot episode of Ozark on Netflix. Both stories had scenes which illustrate the psychological impact of guilt.

In Duncan’s novel, Julie receives a piece of mail. In the envelope is a letter which contains the title sentence: “I know what you did last summer.” In Ozark, Marty confronts his murderous drug boss’ accusations. Marty accuses him of “fishing” for information, which he later admits. Marty’s partner, Bruce, and his co-conspirators, however, start babbling, admitting to information only a guilty party would know.  Big mistake. But that’s guilt.

That one sentence – “I know what you did last summer – causes Julie and her friends to engage in behavior that confirms their guilt. In Ozark, the guilty parties confess their sins before their accuser even knows for certain there is anything to confess. In both situations, it was the “spotlight” that caused the discomfort and led to the mistakes in behavior.

What I am calling “the spotlight” is a metaphor for guilt. In normal, non-narcissistic, non-sociopathic people, something changes inside of us when we do something wrong. Because we have violated our own ethical standards, or done something that we know will hurt someone else, or engaged in activity that is illegal or immoral, an inner spotlight flips on and shines down on the activity. It continues to shine, even while we’re doing and thinking about other things. That continuous spotlight reminds us that our behavior is incompatible with what we know is right. That’s why, when someone questions us about the bad behavior, our bodies and minds betray us. Lie detectors are designed to pick up on this. The mismatch between our beliefs and our actions causes a physical reaction that can be detected electronically.

But the lie detector is not necessary.  The spotlight tricks us into believing that everyone can see what we’ve done. When someone comes too close to discovering the truth, we think the spotlight is growing bigger and brighter. That’s why people confess. The hot brightness of the spotlight is too uncomfortable, too relentless. The weight of the guilty conscience becomes so heavy that confessing the misdeed, and accepting the consequences, seems less painful.

And getting rid of the guilt is a good thing. We should never wallow in guilt. Guilt, by itself, is not helpful. Nevertheless, the ability to feel guilt separates normal human beings from narcissists and sociopaths. The fact that narcissists and sociopaths exist is one of the reasons why lie detectors cannot be totally trusted. Some people don’t have spotlights. Either they are born without one, or they’ve ignored them for so long that the light eventually goes out. In either case, if you can’t feel remorse, you also can’t bond with other humans.

Guilt is part of the survival package that allows us to live together peacefully in community. Guilt is not an end to itself. It’s just a normal human emotion. It is a signal that something is wrong. It is the pathway to remorse. It is an invitation to apologize, make restitution to the abused party, and eventually be forgiven and restored to the community. People who lack the ability to feel remorse can never be restored to the people they’ve harmed. They go from person to person wreaking havoc and leaving hurt, victimized people in their wake. Society needs to be protected from such people.

But if you have done something you know is wrong, remember that the spotlight is there to help you. It’s a signal that something is broken. It should inspire further action to rectify the situation.

However…if someone says “I already know what you did, you might as well confess,” they might be bluffing! Confess at your own risk!

 

Peace and love,

Raven

 

 

 

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New Moon, New Me

Yesterday, there was a new moon. The moon will spend the next 28 days or so developing into its brilliant fullness before it again contracts into a silver sliver in the sky.

For the next two weeks, those of us who honor the earth’s cycles have the opportunity to set new intentions for the month, plan for abundance and prosperity, take on new challenges, and develop new habits. The two weeks following that can be a time for releasing bad habits, ending toxic friendships, relationships, and situations, and letting go of that which no longer serves us as the moon wanes, returning to its crescent.

This is especially true for me right now, leading up to my next birthday. Birthdays for me are no longer about parties and presents (actually, they were never much about that). But, now, more than ever, my birthdays are my own personal New Year’s celebrations. They are about evaluating my life, choosing what I wish to continue, and what I wish to discard. Birthdays, for me, are a time of quiet introspection and excited planning.

To that end, I will be working harder on my business, Grown Folks Fitness, which is my personal training and coaching business. I have also started a YouTube channel under my name where I will discuss life topics and spirituality.

I hope you are well and that you are living a life that you are happy and satisfied with. It’s so important, in these few years we have to live and flower before returning to the earth, that we do what we love, be with whom we love, not waste time with anything that is unworthy of us, and try to make a positive difference on the planet.

Have a blessed and beautiful weekend,

Raven

Adapting a Novel to the Big Screen

My dream is to write a novel that becomes a movie. I’ve written screenplays, but I am in love with novels. I love reading stories, and I love writing them. Writing a novel is a big undertaking, but I’m excited for the challenge. At the end of the process, you have something that is absolutely yours. That is a special feeling.

However, writing a novel that will, hopefully, one day become a movie, requires a degree of forethought. As stated in the video, there has to be enough “story” in the story to make it interesting for viewers. Novels usually have a lot of internal dialogue and description. In a movie, internal dialogue has to be conveyed through actual dialogue, body language, and/or facial expression.

Similarly, in a book, describing the setting is free. But, on a movie set, creating the setting requires enormous amounts of money and man hours. It’s good practice to keep these things in mind as you write (or rewrite).

I think the following questions are helpful when creating a story you hope will be adaptable to the big screen:

1) Is there enough that actually “happens” in the story? Characters should be performing actions and speaking dialogue that reflect what’s going on internally. If you were to see the story’s events in real life, would they still be interesting?

2) If you are a new writer, would the story be economical to produce? Period pieces and elaborate space explorations are fabulous, but expensive. You increase the odds that a small or mid-range producer would be interested in the work if the price tag isn’t too hefty.

3) Are you able to write screenplays? This seems obvious. But some novelists don’t appreciate how much different a screenplay is from a novel. In a screenplay, less is definitely more. Flowery, beautiful language that appeals to readers doesn’t work for producers and directors. Of course, the studio could hire someone to write the screenplay – and they might hire someone else to rewrite the screenplay anyway – but it’s helpful, and potentially more lucrative, if you can do it yourself.

4) Will you be able to handle it, emotionally, when your story gets changed in order to make the story screen-ready? Novelists usually work alone. Screenwriters work as part of a team. The large sums of money and time involved in making a movie mean that lots of people have different opinions. The story will change – sometimes completely – before it makes it to the screen. Is this story your “baby?” If so, you might not be able to tolerate the development process. Pick a story that isn’t too personal, or develop a thick skin if you decide you still want to adapt it.

Adapting a book into a movie is not completely within your control, but there are things you can do to make it more likely. If that’s your goal, spend some time planning your story. A visually appealing story with lots of action, great characters, and snappy dialogue stands a good change of engaging both readers and movie-goers.

Good luck!

And, maybe one day we’ll see your name (and mine!) under the “Based on a novel by…” credit!

Peace and love,

Raven