Innocence versus Experience, Corruption, and Guilt in Fiction

When I thought about writing about innocence the first literary allusion that came to mind was Blakes’ Songs of Innocence which were published in 1789. When I was a child, two of my most favorite poems were The Lamb and The Tygre. Blake viewed the lamb as innocent and the tiger as fearsome, but both as God’s creations. While Blake does not mention guilt in the poem, he must have questioned why God would make a fearsome tiger who, given the opportunity, would eat an innocent lamb for lunch. These poems were probably my first introduction to contradiction. The beauty of poetry is that it allows the poet to depict an image or thought in a few words. Novels, on the other hand, require more than 60,000 words to develop a premise while illustrating it for the reader.

Portraying Complex Aspects of Innocence

In fiction, to create an innocent character usually requires counterbalancing one character with another who is experienced, corrupt, or guilty. Parsing these multiple nuances requires understanding the terms from moral/social, spiritual, and legal perspectives.

On the moral or social side, innocence refers to be a state of being that Blake used in his contrasting poems. Moral innocence refers to childlike goodness as opposed to worldly experience. The lamb suggests the innocence of childhood. The tiger can be interpreted as a parallel to adult action in a ruthless world. In a social setting, the moral connotations are more complex. An innocent character might be an ingenue, that is, a person who is naïve, simply inexperienced, such as a green horn in a western setting, or an unsophisticated boor in a cultured or upper class setting. An innocent character could also be a person who is gullible or easy to fool—the opposite of streetwise. These social innocents could be shown in apposition to individuals who are shrewd, suspicious, or avant-garde depending upon the requirements of the plot.

On the spiritual side, innocence implies purity, chasteness, or virtue. Such a wholesome or decent person could be shown in opposition to an untrustworthy, depraved, or corrupt character.

In a judicial setting, innocence means not guilty. In American courtrooms, persons on trial are assumed to be innocent, resulting in the use of the term “legal innocence.” The defendant is not required to admit innocence or guilt, rather his or her status must be proved. A defendant who is proven not to be innocent in a legal setting may be described as responsible for the crime, culpable, at fault, or guilty. Creating a guilty character requires the writer to decide if the guilty one will show remorse, be contrite, or if the character will refuse the court’s judgment.

Portrayals of Innocence and Guilt

In a recent novel, Red Pill, by Hari Kunzru, the main character’s internal view of himself begins as that of a devoted husband and father. It devolves to that of a paranoid, compulsive participant in a strange game. The novel is a deft interplay between innocence and guilt in the intimate, interpersonal, and public realms.

Joanna Scott’s novel, Arrogance, is based on the life of Egon Schiele. The artist is accused of pornography. He is imprisoned for 24 days. Although the court views his work as vulgar, depraved, and illegal, Schiele justifies his innocence by protesting that as an artist he is simply doing his work of depiction.

My Efforts to Depict Innocence, Corruption, and Guilt

In my first novel, my main character is a blameless person. As goodness may be viewed as boring, I have been struggling with how to make her more worldly. In the same novel, I have been wrestling with how to portray a character who is subtly evil. On the surface he appears to be a friendly chap with lots of friends. Deciding how far to go in proving guilt in a novel is a complex question. In my second novel, an innocent woman attempts to prove the corruption and guilt of a corporation. In my third novel, innocence and guilt are both difficult to prove on several levels. One of the issues with fiction is to allow the reader to figure things out so how best to portray innocence, experience, corruption, and guilt is tricky issue for a writer.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of January, public events distracted me. Editing proved difficult. I decided to read some of the novels on my list for this year. I also attended two online conferences.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

After attending a superb Zoom workshop with Anita Mumm on how to and how not to present a pitch for one’s novel to an agent, I presented mine to an agent via a RMFW Zoom interview. She was not interested in my book.

Add to the draft of my third novel by participating in the RMFW NovelRama in the spring, summer, and fall:

I plan to tackle this story again during the 2021 RMFW NovelRama sessions.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I investigated poetry contests online.

I explored copyright issues for my Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

BWA: I participated in a Steering Committee meeting. I also attended a workshop entitled How the Pale-Faced Lie Sold Over 125,000 Copies. Sandra Jonas and Jill Tappert from Sandra Jonas Publishing discussed their experiences helping David Crow market his novel.

Writers Who Read: In Gary Alan McBride’s group, we discussed Red Pill by Hari Kunzru.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I attended a workshop with Sylvia Cordy on her Opening Act Theatre which is a project to teach young Black girls self-assurance through acting lessons.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: This month, I attended a two-hour workshop on how to do a pitch, led by Anita Mumm, from Mumms the Word Editorial services. We practiced our pitches in small groups. Exchanging feedback was helpful. I practiced doing a pitch on my second novel.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is February 7, 2021, I am posting my second blog of 2021. January was an unsettling month for everyone. I managed to calm myself through reading, attending workshops, and learning more about writing and publishing.

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