Wednesday, July 19, 2017

0 WoW: Writing Guilt with Rebecca Phillips

Guilt is an emotion that most of us have to deal with to some extent but that can be difficult for us as writers to capture on the page. It takes particular finesse to show a young character experiencing and overcoming various degrees of guilt. Today, we're thrilled to have Rebecca Phillips discussing the process of writing THESE THINGS I'VE DONE, coming August 1st from Harper Teen, and how her main character deals with guilt throughout the novel. Here's Rebecca!

Creating Characters Dealing With Guilt
By Rebecca Phillips
We’ve all experienced guilt and regret to some extent in our lives. But there’s a huge difference between feeling some regret over, say, not choosing the right career choice, and debilitating, overwhelming guilt over something horrible we’ve done by accident.

Dara, the main character in my book These Things I’ve Done, is dealing with the second type of regret. After accidentally causing the death of her best friend, she’s mired in guilt that impacts every facet of her life. There’s guilt stemming from the affect her actions had on her friend Aubrey’s family and friends. There’s guilt over what she’s done to her own family, who has to watch her suffer with these feelings. And then there’s survivor guilt, which makes Dara wonder why she couldn’t have been the one to die instead.

Being in Dara’s head was very challenging. I had to put myself in her place. How would I feel if I inadvertently caused someone’s death? Especially the death of someone I loved? Contemplating this scenario was disturbing and uncomfortable, but writers are well-known for their active imaginations, so I could picture the scene all too clearly. But I had a hard time imagining how I’d go on and work toward a place where I could live a normal life. Is it even possible? Being a teenager is hard enough; living with this magnitude of guilt on top of all the normal teen problems seems insurmountable.

In the present chapters of the book, which take place about a year after the accident, Dara is basically just surviving. She’s still wracked with remorse and grief. She goes to therapy. She tries to get back to some semblance of normalcy, even though she knows her life will never be the same again. She has to see Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day, which adds more weight to an already heavy burden (for both of them). All Dara wants to do is atone for her mistake, not just for her own sake but for everyone else’s sake too.

Along with her incredible guilt, she also has to contend with the what ifs. What if things had happened differently? What if she and Aubrey had never gone to the place where the accident occurred? This line of thinking can take a real toll on a person’s mental health, but it’s almost impossible not to wonder. If only we could go back and do one thing differently, avoiding the moment that set everything in motion.

Living with something so huge hanging over your head, eating at you every day, is beyond intense. Accomplishing this with Dara’s voice required balance. In the past chapters, she’s an innocent, happy kid, secure in her belief that nothing bad can ever happen to her or anyone she loves. In the present chapters, after having witnessed one of the worst tragedies imaginable, she knows that nothing in life is secure, and happiness can be snatched away in an instant. The chapters alternate, which meant I had to change voice and tone depending on which chapter I was writing. This was by far the most challenging part.

Another challenge was injecting a feeling of hope into those present chapters, even as Dara struggles with her role in her best friend’s death. I wanted to show that life does—and will—go on. All the things that existed before the accident—family, friendship, interests, love—are still there, waiting to be rediscovered. The pain will never disappear, but it will eventually start to fade as the days pass, until finally, you realize you’ve grown strong enough to let go.

Rebecca Phillips has been writing YA since she was a YA herself. She's the author of:

The JUST YOU series
ANY OTHER GIRL (Kensington)
THESE THINGS I'VE DONE (HarperTeen, August 1, 2017)

Rebecca lives in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband, two children, and one spoiled rotten cat. None of them say "eh" or "aboot."

Visit Rebecca on her website and on Twitter @RebeccaWritesYA

A contemporary YA perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Jessi Kirby, THESE THINGS I’VE DONE is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who accidentally caused her best friend’s death and, a year later, is still grappling with the consequences.

Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

It's been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn't racked with guilt over her role in her best friend's death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn't half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey's brother, every day. Not just because he's a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she's betraying her best friend one final time.

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