Monday, June 20, 2011

Do You Use Morals?

Do You Use Morals?
By Stephen Tremp

Do you use morals, ethics, and social matters in your stories that manifest in a lesson learned at the conclusion?

This is a topic I love to discuss. As a writer, I think it is vital to weave into the plot concepts of morals and ethics that challenge the characters to do things they normally would not do. They will need to somehow find a way to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The result will be some kind of lesson learned. Many great authors and poets do this, some to a larger degree than others. Often (not always, example is the movie Se7en) we witness good triumphing over evil. However, a suspense thriller or a fantasy adventure should incorporate more than merely a battle of good vs. evil, where good ultimately triumphs in the end. Yawn.

There are a plethora of issues a writer can use, such as economic, ethical, human, legal, moral, religious, rights, and social matters that can question the core values of your character(s). These can be fantastic opportunities to introduce conflict, and conflict is necessary to drive the plot forward.

Question: as we address one or more of these matters, do we subtly incorporate some kind of lesson or question our present value system? And if so, what happens when we approach the end of our story? Do you tend to forget about your threaded morals and ethics, or are there consequences to your characters’ actions? Think back on what they did, conspired, and manipulated. What did they sow? Will they reap the whirlwind? If not, then you may be making your ending anti-climatic. It could be boring. Predictable (the worse scenario). Nothing special.

I note everything my bad guys think, say, and do. Ultimately, they will have to pay for their sins. They will need to be held accountable for their actions, either in this life or the next (think the ending of the movie Ghost where the bad guys are killed and their souls drug off to hell by dark evil spirits). So think about what you weave into your writings. Will they manifest at the end of your story in the form of judgment? If not, then what good is introducing morals and ethics in the first place?

Question: Do you use morals and ethics to achieve a lesson learned? Do you think about the consequences for your characters actions at the conclusion? Do you mete out justice and judgment, such as a guilty verdict in a court of law, the bad guy being killed by a cop, or the antagonist ending up dead and ultimately in a place of eternal torment?

Or do you feel lessons learned are too preachy and the lines of ethics and morals are too blurred to come to definitive conclusions? Or perhaps life’s not fair, so why try to tie a nice pretty red ribbon around the ending.

Stephen Tremp is author of the action thriller Breakthrough. You can visit Stephen at Breakthrough Blogs.


Donna M. McDine said...

Great post with points to definitely take into account when outlining my next manuscript.

Thank you,

kathy stemke said...

Thanks for this 'food for thought' Stephen. I agree that too many fantasy novels are simply good vs bad. It's important to include specific morals to add interest to the plot.

Karen Cioffi said...

While supposedly today's market frowns on delivering a moral in the story, I did just that in my new children's MG Walking Through Walls.

I think I worked it so it isn't obvious, but there are definite moral issues in it.

Great post.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Dallas said...

What an interesting discussion! Thanks for the post, Stephen & Heather. The books I am most interested in tend to be those that don't present moral issues as just "black" and "white" but rather delve into the "gray" in between.

H.C.Paye said...

Thank you all so much for stopping by and commenting!

Karen, I think when it all comes down to it, it's the writer's choice what rules to abide by. I noticed most classic books don't abide by the "passive voice" rules - and they're books have lasted generations. So I wouldn't worry too much about having moral issues.

Dallas - I agree, books are just more three-dimensional when that "gray" area is there.

Kathy and Donna - thank you both for stopping by! Stephen's article was really a great one!

~ Heather Paye

Stephen Tremp said...

Thanks Heather for hosting me, and thanks everyone for stopping by and saying hello. I love to talk about this topic as people have such a varied opinion on the matter.

Heather, I'll do a link back from my blog and leave it up for a couple days. Hopefully it'll bring some new traffic your way!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great post. I think it's difficult for me not to let my ethics leak into my writing. I had to laugh at some of the comments on reviews for my first book. They noted a lesson I was making about class distinctions in society and I guess I was but I didn't write it on purpose.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Whether you're an author of books or a poet to me morals come high on my list, One has to have morals to get through life and hopefully pass them on to your off springs, whether they take heed is another matter.

Enjoyed the post, good to read.
Have a nice day,

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Heather good to meet you and thank you for hosting Stephen - he's always got something pertinent to say.

Since I started blogging I'm learning so much about story telling and writing and pick up so many thoughts - that I never realised were contained within books ...

My education keeps right on .. I am looking at books, articles etc in a new light, and when I discuss things - again I get that different perspective of life showing up - interesting ..

Cheers - so informative .. Hilary

Old Kitty said...

I do like writing complex bad characters! My main "bad" character in my current wip is (hopefully) scary and sexy and violent as hell but there are reasons why this character is such - ones that I hope (fingers crossed) I am able to express. I don't explain the badness away - I just want the badness to be comprehensible.

I don't really mind what stand the author takes with his/her stories - so long as the story itself is compelling with an underlying philosophical conundrum at its heart. I'm thinking here of classics like The Outsider by Camus or Crime and Punishment. Evil and violence abound but we see our darker selves in the protagonists.

Take care

Madeleine said...

This so makes me think of the 1999 film Election, where the characters remained unchanged by their plotting, deception and actions, while their lives are changed. I think it is a masterpiece of writing.
I hate predictable bad guys who end up being the vitcims of murder, it's so amateur whoddunit because people are much more complex :O)

Clarissa Draper said...

These are really good questions. I think that we need to consider morals and test them in our novels but I don't use my novels to be preachy or force my moral background on people. Great subject!

ali said...

In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about weaving lessons or themes into your story. On one of the later passes of a MS, if you *think* there could a lesson learned, a moral or whatever, then go ahead and flesh it out.

Personally, I love it when a great story also leaves me with a taste of a lesson. Just a taste!

And I loved how you said you keep track of your antagonist's thoughts and stuff to make sure that the lesson IS in fact learned.

Great post!

Stephen Tremp said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting. There are so many directions we can go with this matter. Its interesting to see what other writers and readers have to say about it,

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Depends on the book! Not sure I was thinking too much about that as I wrote - I focused more on the human equation. Although I wouldn't write anything really immoral into my work anyway.

H.C.Paye said...

Wow! Thanks, Stephen!

Yvonne - Very true and good point: morals are important in any type of writing, not just fiction.

Hilary - a pleasure to meet you as well! Thank you so much for stopping by. Stephen is quite epic in his own right.

Old Kitty - (Kitties are epic, btw) I do think it is important to be able to have morals in your story without literally throwing it in your readers' faces. So I think you're on the right track there.

Madeleine - It does make it easy to spot an amateur! Very annoying. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Clarissa - Absolutely. When I write, I always really try to avoid going all 'word-vomit' or ending my book in something like 'and that is why we don't still things' - when it comes to morals. Stephen asks some very important questions that would otherwise be overlooked by the average writer.

Ali - Definitely! 'Less is more' deifnitely works well in the 'moral' part of a story. If a writer can teach a lesson without forcing it, he/she has done a great thing.

Alex - I think all of us really have a touch of humanity when it comes to writing our works. I think the worst that may be done is having an immoral antagonist (which I seen only too often).

Thank you all for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

~ Heather Paye

Sharon said...

Enjoyed reading through the discussion. I think the grey areas are the ones most of us really struggle with so we can identify more readily with characters who also struggle.

Our non-fiction book, I'm afraid, doesn't have much in the way of grey areas. I suspect that any given reader will either throw it down in disgust or absolutely love it - not much in between. It tells how we dealt with the ultimate unfairness of life.

Sometime I think I'd like to try my hand at fiction just to see if I could deal with these issues at that level.


Dani said...

I think lessons are good, but the writer can definitely be too heavy-handed. The best approach is to have a character in the book learn the lesson, with the reader witnessing the benefits. It's a little more subtle that way. I don't think readers like to be beaten over the head by another's values.

Joylene Butler said...

Stephen, you've touched on a great subject. I generally don't know what the moral issue is until I'm finished the book. Interestingly, in the beginning I think it's one, but by the end it's another. My latest is about bad things happening to good people, and good people not using evil as a revenge tool. Hope that makes sense, it just popped out of my head. I should probably post only early in the morning.

Great topic. Thanks for reminding me how important this is.

Bob Sanchez said...

I think the writers' first duty is to entertain the reader. Sure, the bad guy can get what's coming to him, and the protagonist can learn an important life lesson, but that should all be in service of pleasing the reader and not foisting the writer's values on the reader.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I definitely used morals in my books. There were many consequences for wrong behavior, both physically and emotionally. I'm also a firm believer in happy endings. They are real, they do happen, and all of my books end that way.

Susan Fields said...

Great topic, with some really good things to think about. I do think it's important for the bad guy to be held accountable for his actions. I didn't read the book, but one thing about the movie Lovely Bones that really bothered me was the bad guy's end. Sure he died, but anyone could have died that way. I wanted to see him pay for his sins in some way. It was a disappointing ending for me.

Stephen Tremp said...

I'm a firm believer in letting the bad guy really get it in the end. Just the way I am. Like Susan said, it can be disappointing of the villain who performs the most heinous of crimes doesn't die an awful death. I didn't see Lovely Bones just because of this very reason.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Sometimes the bad guy gets away, or never learns his lesson. I don't think the Vern Dursley from Harry Potter ever truly learned his lesson. Of course, he might've just been an antagonist more than a baddie, but I still believe he should've learned his lesson all the same.

notesfromnadir said...

Excellent topic. As long as you can do it without being too obvious & heavy-handed then you'll only entertain & educate your reader.

Stephen Tremp said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. I always like to discuss this topic. And thanks Heather for hosting!