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Regrets, I’ve had a few

March 1, 2013

Recently, I had a discussion with someone I wronged in the past. We’ve gotten past it, mostly, but the wrong was entirely my fault and it’s stayed with me. I asked for a second, then recounted my shortcoming, then I apologized. The things I had done weren’t done maliciously, but they made things more difficult than they should have been.

The person was gracious about it, and said some deeply appreciated positive things. It was very nice. I don’t hang myself on that cross any more, but I still have regrets. Everyone who makes mistakes has regrets. I could get all motivational on you and say that it’s not the regrets that matter, but what you do with them. You can either crucify yourself with them, or you can use them as an guide to do things differently.

(Thank goodness, I didn’t get all motivational, right?)

There’s a third choice, too. You can transform those feelings, that deep regret, into your character’s regret. You can let them feel the same things you felt, and react the same way, or you can let them feel differently.

There’s a movie called The Mission from the mid 1980s. In it, Robert DeNiro plays Rodrigo Mendoza, a man who kidnaps South American natives and sells them into slavery. He murders his half-brother for sleeping with his fiance, but he’s acquitted of the crime and falls into severe depression. Anxious to make his contrition, he pulls his armor up the side of the mountain in a net. The armor is heavy and the journey through mud and other elements makes him look like the natives he kidnapped.

When he collapses at the top of the mountain, with the natives watching, a native takes a knife and approaches him. He holds the knife at Mendoza’s neck. Mendoza’s expression shows that he accepts this fate as righteous and appropriate.

Then the native reaches behind Mendoza and cuts him free of his armor and throws it over a ledge into the river. Mendoza is overcome by emotion and weeps uncontrollably and is comforted by the natives.

The scene is moving and shows an understanding of redemption that can only be understood by someone who’s lived through some heavy regrets and come out the other side.

Most likely, you’ve never sold someone into slavery or murdered them. But you have dealt with regrets, productively or poorly. And that experience is a rich gold mine for your characters.

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3 Comments
  1. Tracy Sas permalink
    March 1, 2013 8:15 am

    Appreciated this post. Thank you, Chris.

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    March 1, 2013 8:22 am

    Thanks, Tracy.

    I, for instance, regret typing the word gurney when I meant journey. Thank goodness I fixed it. Now I must go and earn my penance by watching twelve straight episodes of Glee. <>

  3. March 3, 2013 2:08 am

    I appreciated the honesty in this post. I think that when authors feed their fiction with such real emotions, it makes it more meaningful, and can help the reader deal with their own regrets in life.

    Another thing I like to do with regret is rewriting the story when it’s fictionalized, adding new elements: What do I wish I had done instead? What do I wish I had said? How could I have made it better but never got a chance to do in real life?

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