John Banville said, “A plot begins when somebody has something to hide.” Along those lines, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”
True, don’t you think? I can feel wheels turning as I read Fitzgerald’s comment. What are people ashamed of? Make a list of the first ten things that enter your mind. When you’ve finished, put the list aside.
Imagine if a character, for reasons we can fabricate later, were ashamed of an everyday, common activity? Let’s say, for instance, someone feels shame every time he sits down. What would his story look like? Of course, there are myriad options from which to choose. Make another list of common activities where shame doesn’t enter the picture for most people.
Would a character with an irregular sense of shame lead to a kind of gag story, devoid of significance? Not at all. Significance is in the character’s backstory. Why does So-and-so experience shame to the extent that he refuses to let himself sit down? How do the people in his life react to his unwillingness to sit down? How do their reactions complicate his problem? The results could be quirky, humorous, and heart-wrenching.
Both identifiable shame and irregular shame are powerful themes to explore in fiction.