“Sometimes an accusation is a confession”

Have you ever read something that hits you hard and you can’t stop thinking about it?

Usually that happens to me with novels, but I came across this quote somewhere in the wilds of Instagram recently. It struck a certain chord because there’s a real-life theme here that many of us encounter in our lives. And because I like translating real life into fiction, it also occurred to me that this is actually a great writing prompt.

I think most of us have had accusers tell on themselves at some point in our lives – and if you haven’t, you likely will. The romantic partner who constantly thinks you’re being shady, only for you to find out that they’re being shady. The parents who seem paranoid about your behavior, only to later find out that they used to engage in that behavior. The colleague who accuses you of trying to undermine them because they try to undermine others.

I think the difference between a valid accusation and a confessionary accusation may lie in patterns. I look at my own life, at the people who I know have accused me of doing things I wasn’t doing that I later found out they were doing, and there’s a pattern of behavior over time. A sense of paranoia – the constant staccato of repeated accusations, or a fervent and unshakeable belief that you absolutely are doing these things, you just haven’t been caught yet.

I’ve experienced both – the constant drip of hints and insinuations that slowly drive you crazy, and the smug certainness of people who just know what you’re doing. Neither of these people are swayed by evidence, or logic, or reason.

While frustrating as all hell in real life, but as I like channeling the challenges of my life into writing, let’s get literary with this concept.

Sometimes accusations are confessions – writing prompt:

  • How does your accusation character exhibit the same behavior or tendencies that they accuse others of engaging in? Write a scene in which this occurs. Try to show the behavior rather than tell us what it is.
  • What happens as a result of this? What tensions does it raise? How does it create challenges within the story?
  • What would happen to your character if they didn’t change?
  • Now think about other characters and how they would interact with this accusation character. How do their accusations and paranoia impact them? What issues does it cause?

I find that allowing myself to lean into things that anger and confuse me in life by exploring it in writing allows for a sort of private emotional resolution that you often don’t get in the real world. Because often, this is a resolutionless issue. It’s hard to break through a belief system that someone is committed to upholding, especially when they start discarding any sort of evidence and batting away any sense of doubt.

I’m so, so frustrated with this in my own life. Shatteringly frustrated, saturated with disappointment. Because the only thing I can do here, in the world, is walk away from the person and channel the confusion and disappointment somewhere else.

And when I think about good writing, the kind of writing that engages, it’s not just the tension and the drama and the polished language. A lot of it has to do with relatability. I could read a story like this and see myself in it, and be interested in how it plays out and resolves (or doesn’t) because that offers me some catharsis. It’s a balm.

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