Sunday, 29 September 2013

Does there have to be a moral to every story?


Every story has something to say and every story conveys a message to the reader, whether it’s something about the world in general, or about the human condition, and the kind of issues that relate to all of us. These are all relayed through the characters that inhabit the story.
Any intended message can be overt, subtle or implied.
The moral of a story is not to be confused with the author’s personal thoughts and feelings, because as a rule, an author should never personally intrude a story.  Instead, morals are the products of our observations and the issues that impact all of us, and how we can learn and grow from them. 

Think of the snippets of wisdom given to you by your parents or grandparents – these are the basis of various morals adapted by society and used for generations. Our lives are dictated by morality, and fiction is no different.
Even from the dawn of time, storytellers have included morals in their tales; they all want to give us a message of some sort, whether that message is about love or kindness, bravery, courage, loyalty or trust, behaving in the right way or learning from one’s mistakes etc.

Even the most basic stories have something to tell us, but, contrary to belief, constructing a story with a moral template isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Writers, on the whole, tend to make it complicated when there is no need to.
So how it is done?  How do you convey that important moral message?

To begin with, every writer needs to thoroughly understand the kind of story they’re writing because from that basis, the heart of the story and its central themes, and the character’s personal journey, form the moral(s) of the story.
For example, if you have a story about betrayal or revenge, you may have a character that eventually comes to realise that, in the end, forgiveness is better than vengeance because although revenge might feel satisfactory in the short term, it doesn’t alter the situation in the long run. The moral of the story, therefore, is that forgiveness is better than vengeance.

Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’ has many strong moral threads, particularly the injustice of slavery for the main character, by having a different coloured skin, and his struggle to become a free man in a land of white people.  The morals here are that skin colour makes no difference; no man is master above another because we are all born equal and it is wrong to prejudge someone.
Think about other stories.  To Kill a Mockingbird also explores racism and prejudice.

Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is a moral story about the brutality of and pointlessness of war. It’s a simple message.
Throughout history, writers and poets have used morality within their tales.  There are countless morals to ponder in Aesop’s fables, while Homer’s Odyssey is littered with moralistic dilemmas for Odysseus to overcome and learn from.

Probably the most famous examples of any moralistic stories can be found in the Bible and Koran. Many of the tales involve people who embark on a journey and learn something about themselves and the world around them so that they may become better people.
Your main character’s story involves a personal journey. By the end of that journey they will have changed in some way, they will have learned about themselves, and so their behaviour will change too.  All this is interwoven with the central themes of the story, be them love, hate, revenge, jealousy, murder etc, to form the moral thread.

As you write your story, you will see how such morals are formed by what happens to your characters and how they go about achieving their set goals.  Sometimes we have firm ideas about the morals we want in our stories, while other times they naturally emerge as the story is written.
The strength of voice as the writer also plays an important role in how effective the moral thread is with the reader.  As already mentioned, such threads can be subtle, implied or even hidden within the story.  These are far more preferable for a reader than having it shoved in their faces at every available opportunity.  Don’t preach to your reader, but rather enlighten them. Readers like to figure out things for themselves – it’s one of the things that make reading a well written book so enjoyable.

Don’t get too caught up in trying to invent morals for the story because you think the story must have one. Often, the message emerges naturally as you write the story.  And of course all that depends on the quality of the writing; the strength of the characters and the situations that evoke emotion and empathy, the kind of journey they undertake, the various themes running through the story, and of course the strength of the author’s voice.  Your character must change by the end of the story/novel, and having shared the journey, the reader will too.

So, does there have to be a moral to every story? The answer is that every story has something to say.


Next week: Suspending disbelief for your reader

25 comments:

  1. Neat idea to try and write about this kind of stuff, but it won't be taken seriously if you don't read it back to yourself before hitting update.

    What does this mean?

    "Every story has something to say and every story conveys a message to the reader, whether it’s something about the about world in general, or about the human condition, and the kind of issues that relate to all of us. These are all relayed through the characters that inhabit the story. T"

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    1. It means that during my 14 hour working days of 9 to 5, then coming home to complete writing commitments such as blogs, articles, answering mail, writing short stories, doing critiques and editing, and looking after a toddler, then the occasional error might occur.

      If only we I could be perfect. But alas I am not. But I am awfully glad you pointed it our for me.

      Oh, and I don't think it's a neat idea to write about this stuff. I know it is. And to be honest, I can't take you seriously if you hide behind anonymity and make banal, anal comments. Please do get out more.

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    2. I was about to agree with you, but now I think the writer will likely bite my head off instead of accepting constructive criticism gracefully. I initially found the post interesting, but quit reading because the typos irked me.

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    3. I don't bite. Well, not very hard. I welcome valid criticism, but the tone of comments should be constructive and not come across as though to mock, thus negating any validity. I'm not here to bite people's heads off, but the odd typo shouldn't warrant an Einsatzgruppen!

      I welcome critique, but typos sometimes happen, and I hold my hands up!

      Delete
  2. 8th June 2013

    "This obviously means opening yourself to criticism, however is it (sic) important to point out that it is useless becoming a writer unless you can’t (sic) take criticism."

    "If you can’t handle criticism, then there’s no point being a writer."

    Why am I Anon? Because I don't use Blogger and can't be bothered to create a profile. Maybe the same's true of the others?

    Why not correct the piece and just move on? The content and advice is generally good - as is the advice in the first comment.

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  3. What a disappointment. I thought this was a website that would offer constructive advice from a professional for those trying to make their way in the writing world. Your reaction to a very valid comment and question has surprised me. How can you write pages and pages of advice about writing and not be willing to listen to others when it comes to your own writing? Any good writer should know that the craft is one that requires an ability to take constructive criticism.
    We are all human and yes we do all make mistakes but I think it was a valid point – why not read your work carefully before publishing it? As both the ‘Anons’ point out, there are mistakes on your website and these are more noticeable because of the nature of the content. You’re trying to help writers improve their craft; you’re providing a resource for those wanting to learn and people are trusting your ability. If some notice mistakes then I think it’s reasonable they question this with you.
    We all write with the aim to make it the most enjoyable read, don’t we? ‘Polish’ your good work and the readers are more likely to stay.


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    1. "How can you write pages and pages of advice about writing and not be willing to listen to others when it comes to your own writing?"

      Because it wasn't that constructive. It simply mocked in tone. (That's how it was perceived). Lots of people have pointed out the odd error, and I've welcomed the feedback. That's because they have done so in a constructive way and I've thanked them and corrected the mistake.

      I completely agree that errors sometimes happen, and I wish I had more time than an hour each week to write each article, but I don't (that's my fault with other writing commitments I have). And I agree with everything you have said.

      I'm not here to berate anyone. I offer up my advice and knowledge freely so that others might get ahead. I am not interested in how many readers I 'get'. Numbers are not important to me, but it's the experience I pass on to others that matters.

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  4. Grammar Nazis eh? Typo Nazis can be even worse. This blog is about what you do (write fiction) it is not 'a' or 'the' work of fiction and expectations that it might go through the same proofing process as a novel, may be unrealistic. This is a free resource, i don't know what your motivation is in writing it, but I am grateful for it: E&O included. "And that's all I have to say on that."

    "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."

    There are many great books with no moral message they are simply great stories. There are also great novels that include personal moral journeys and epiphanies and others that document the morality of injustice. Morality, is optional.

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  5. No writer should ever use lack of time as a reason for errors in their work. If you're setting yourself targets that can't be met, change them.

    Without realising it you're sending out a message to the people who read your blog that errors are okay - and they're not.

    If the article had arrived on my desk I wouldn't have read beyond that first paragraph.

    Why not correct the errors (all of them, not just those in the first paragraph) and delete our comments? As for the errors in the other posts, check the content when you have time and correct them too - it's all part of the writing process.

    Your purpose for creating this blog is to share your knowledge - but you have to remember that it also forms part of your writing CV.

    I will continue to dip in and out of your blog for a while - but I can't recommend it until I have confidence in the content.

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    1. @Anonymous.

      You seem to have a high opinion of yourself and your power of recommendation.

      "Without realising it..." - the blog author has already responded to this pomposity.

      Possibly the desk in the marketing department within The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy sees many things passed over it, presumably scribed in quill. Maybe the department perceives a need for fastidious punctiliousness there akin to that it devotes to the colour choice for the wheel. The effects in this blog are similar. You have a choice if you don’t like the author’s work and she has stated her case quite plainly: does boorish feature in your vocabulary?

      Delete
    2. It would be good to have a name of sorts by which to call you, but 'anon' feels...well...anon. So, anon, just to clarify, I hold my hands up. I made errors. Please don't all shoot me.

      You suggested deleting comments. Why would I delete your comments? That would be a childish reaction on my part. This is an honest and open site, and as much as I can't communicate properly with nameless 'anons', all opinions and thoughts are welcomed. I find it crazy to go around censoring comments that I don't agree with or don't like. That belongs in the classroom.

      And just to clear any confusion, the blog doesn't form my CV. My editors are not interested in articles, they are only interested with my writing credentials.

      And you are welcome to dip in and out of the blog any time, but I don't subject myself to demand, and it matters not to me whether you recommend the blog or not. That is entirely down to you.

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  6. Bryn, I find your comments to be the only offensive ones on this blog. "Grammar Nazis" and remarks like "you seem to have a high opinion of yourself" - are these really necessary?
    The author and Anon are clearly both professionals who have a passion for their work, albeit both come from a different standpoint. I feel the Anon post is nothing but helpful. He/she has made some valid points and if you read with a less emotional ties then you will see that they are clearly offering professional advice.

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  7. "Because it wasn't that constructive. It simply mocked in tone. (That's how it was perceived). "

    Exactly- you perceived it that way. I most certainly didn't. In fact, I thought the comments were valid and useful, but I read your work from an emotionally neutral point of view; my heart isn't involved.
    Food for thought? Maybe this is an opportunity for you to write about the 'sensitivies' we face when we receive even constructive criticism? As all writers know, it's never easy to learn we've made mistakes big or small, but it's vital we are never complacent. Equally, it's always worth listening to all opinions when someone has taken the time to offer professional advice.
    Best of luck!

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    1. JL, you say you didn't perceive it that way. That's entirely your view and quite rightly so. My perception of it, however, was different, but also valid - it was simply my opinion.

      I have no problem with people voicing criticism or opinions here because I see no reason for the lack of debate or discussion. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

      On the subject of your being ‘emotionally neutral’ reading my work - again that is entirely up to you. It matters not to me whether you read my work or not, or whether you like it or you don’t. Everyone’s taste is different, and I don’t write for the adulation. I write because I want to. It’s that simple.

      In your earlier post you said, “What a disappointment. I thought this was a website that would offer constructive advice from a professional for those trying to make their way in the writing world.” It is a website designed to help those wanting to get on in the writing world, although I am beginning to wish I never bothered when faced with a lot of personal abuse and trolling over the last two years. (And no, I am not pointing any fingers, I am merely stating a fact of occurrences from the time the website was set up). As stated previously, I do this from my own free time, I charge nothing and I personally answer queries when people email me with questions.

      You say, "it's always worth listening to all opinions when someone has taken the time to offer professional advice". While I absolutely agree, I rather think that's an erroneous statement in the sense that you make the assumption that I don’t listen to advice at all. Whether it’s a publisher, an editor or a friend’s advice, I take it on board, and have done so over many years of learning the craft.

      I wouldn't be writing otherwise.

      Best of luck to you too.

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  8. Shoot me now, but I don't care about the errors. I read other blogs and there's plenty of errors on them too.

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  9. "Those that can do. Those that can't..." in the blogosphere they hide behind computer screens and drag things off topic with minutiae matching their minds. That's not confined to this blog or writing blogs. Then we are have to wade through meters of bilge to get to useful replies.

    The writer was not writing about copy editing or proof reading. Get real and get back on topic.

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  10. I think good writing should incorporate all, including an ability to clean up your work when it's done.

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    1. You mean finished? If it's done--stick a fork in it. ~The late, great, Sister Mary Dorothy

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  11. I notice it's those who rubbish the idea of proofing are the rude ones on this blog. I agree with J Hodges and the Anons and I also think the author has some good points in her blog. However, why not smarten it up and just correct the errors? No big deal. All it does is demonstrate how much you care about your work.

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  12. Good writing incorporates all - end of. Take everything on board.

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  13. I'm quite pleased this has generated loads more traffic to the site (deliberately or otherwise). Stuff like this creates a buzz and generates interest. Page views in the last 24 hours are off the scale and more people have got in touch via Twitter and email, so this debate has helped no end.

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  14. Just found this site and it's interesting how passionate some can be about errors - whether they're bothered by them or not. Me? I hate 'em all.
    I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog posts. At the moment I'm dipping into the archives.
    One thing I do want to say is that I agree that this is part of your CV, AJ (that's not easy to say!). Google will always associate you and your work with this site - irrespective of what you believe. I actually think that's good because it would be a shame for this site not to be more well known.
    Look forward to reading more.

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    1. Hi there, unfortunately you haven't left your name, but thanks for posting, Anon.

      I take your point about this site forming a CV, although this is just a free advice site and nothing to do with the writing output I produce. I set it up in the hope of helping others and that the info here proves useful to them. That's all there is to it. Nothing special. Just me sharing what I know. On the plus side, my editors are more than familiar with my fictional writing work, we've worked together a number of years, so they don't require my CV...it's too long anyway!

      Delete
  15. Yes, asking "What does this mean?" when the meaning is obvious and there's simply an error of an additional word is a rude way of pointing out a needed correction. As is implying the author shouldn't be taken seriously because of a typo. The poster has been called out for offering the correction in a snide manner. Also, the idea that one has the time to repeatedly comment here to defend their tactlessness but not a few minutes to make a simple profile smacks of horseshit.

    Whoa. Looks like I can be tactless, too. But will at least cop to it.

    Moving on to the actual post...

    The moral of a story is not to be confused with the author’s personal thoughts and feelings, because as a rule, an author should never personally intrude a story.

    Whose rule? This isn't a sarcastic question; I'm just always seeing writing posts sharing this rule or that, and never really know where they come from. At any rate, any moral I'd include in a story would be absolutely shaped by my own thoughts and feelings. Though as a (personal) rule, I never set out to include a moral, just to tell the story in my head. It may have no nutritional value to the human soul whatsoever, and I'm totally okay with that.

    Don’t get too caught up in trying to invent morals for the story because you think the story must have one.

    WORD, sister. Being hit over the head with a life lesson is the absolute worst. I want to read a story, not a public service announcement.

    Think of the snippets of wisdom given to you by your parents or grandparents – these are the basis of various morals adapted by society and used for generations.

    Pretty sure I can't mine my memories of my grandfather for useful morals. Unless "you damn kids get off my lawn!" qualifies.

    Great post!

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    1. I like your candour, Assorted. Very refreshing. Don't hold back!

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