1. alexandriadeloraine
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    alexandriadeloraine Member

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    The Moral of the Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by alexandriadeloraine, Aug 20, 2013.

    Hey there folks;

    I've been writing for a good long while now, well over 15 years, and my work has evolved and improved a lot
    over that time, but some aspects of writing have always remained the same for me. One thing, particularly, is
    that I have always felt a strong responsibility for the content of my writing, for the message / moral it sends to
    the reader. I don't mean in an overly preachy sense, but I feel responsible for the conduct of my characters,
    protagonists and antagonists alike, if that makes sense.

    Does anyone else feel this way about their work? I guess you could say, when I write I like for the reader to
    really be able to identify with the characters, to take away ideas that they want to apply in their own lives.

    So I'm curious, what do the rest of you scribes think? Is this something you've thought about, does it factor
    into how / what you write, or do you just take off by the seat of your pants and see where the pen leads you?

    Cheers;

    - Alexandria de Loraine
     
  2. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    I started my current work with a moral in mind.

    That moral was: "Given the right circumstances, any person can turn into an brutal, genocidal animal".

    After designing my world, establishing my back story and drafting some preliminary scenes of a few characters, I was ready to turn them into evil monsters. My hope was that the reader too, would understand how fragile humanity is. They too, if not careful, could be an evil monster. Watch out.

    Yet once I got down to it, the text did get preachy. My theme consumed my characters, to the point that they were not so much evil, as little bearers of moral responsibility, going out into the literary world with banners saying "Mike thinks that humanity is fragile". Narrative dried up. Relationships were sidelined. Conflict got into the way of my (character's) soapboxing. As a work of fiction, it simply died.

    I'm now in clean up mode. Reflecting on my relationship with the characters, and the moral position we are all taking. It's a fascinating process, and in fact I've learnt about my own moral position. I do feel responsible for them, but I've realised its a place where I can take opposing moral views too, and explore how those work in the world. The theme will stay, but my intention now is to try and let it grow naturally, to see where it ends up, and to be a product of the plot and the characters, not the other way around!
     
  3. alexandriadeloraine
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    alexandriadeloraine Member

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    Hey there Cartographers;

    For me, the answer would be pretty much every day. I'm an extremely atypical case, though, and not the example upon which I
    generally base my characters. I hesitate to use the term morals because of the connotations I know it carries, what I am more
    concerned with is the general message, and the tone of it, conveyed within my work. As an example, if I have a character who is
    depicted perpetrating child abuse, regardless of whether the character can be seen as tragic, it is made clear in no uncertain
    terms that there is no justification for the abuse that the character has perpetrated, that it is unpardonable. One may understand
    why the character did the abuse, but it is still presented as loathsome and detestable. Does that make sense?

    That's just an example I hope illustrates a bit of what I mean. I truly don't feel I write in a preachy way (I've received a lot of feed-
    back on my work over the years and aside from my opinionated essays, I've never received a comment about my fiction being
    preachy, I think because I do a lot of simple showing the wrongness or rightness of certain actions, vs. having narrative monologues
    or character soliloquies going on about a certain point or other).

    Part of why I'm curious about this is because, in reading so much classic literature over the years, I've noticed that most of the
    writers I adore (Goethe, Dante, Tolstoy, Chekhov, etc.) had a purpose for writing the stories that they did. You can't read The Duel,
    or Faust, or Resurrection, and not come away thinking about the meaning(s), the moral(s) (if you will) of the story you've read. At
    least, I don't think so. Unfortunately, all these great guys are dead, so I can't really ask them about how they felt regarding their work.

    Ah well, I'm off to work some more. ^.^

    - Alexandria de Loraine
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re:

    But don't your readers already know that child abuse is bad? Why do you need to tell them what they probably already know?

    I realize that you may be thinking that perhaps some tiny percentage of your readers have never been presented with the idea that child abuse is bad, so what could it hurt? But I think that presenting simple, obvious morals "in no uncertain terms" is likely to be read as preachy, and I think that that's likely to distract from your work and from the more subtle ideas that it may be communicating.

    It also seems to be based on the idea that you are smarter than your readers, that you're teaching them, rather than joining them in exploring new ideas. And I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good idea.
     
  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well put. Very positive and healthy way at approaching a novel.
     
  6. alexandriadeloraine
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    alexandriadeloraine Member

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    Hey there ChickenFreak;

    The child abuse thing was an example, chosen specifically because I figure pretty much everyone already
    does know and agree that it's wrong. That said, depending on what you recognize as constituting child abuse,
    there are a lot of abusive things that parents do and say to their kids but that are considered perfectly normal
    and acceptable aspects of raising children, a matter of the parents' choice. Anyway, the whole child abuse
    thing was intended simply as an example. As I said, I haven't run into the accusation of being preachy, and I've
    received feedback on my work from a -lot- of people with no investment in my ego, so I reckon it's been pretty
    honest. :) This sense of responsibility I have isn't along the lines of 'oh I must include these specific morals in
    the story, this message must get across', it's much more along the lines of, 'yes, characters can be complex
    and flawed, but I don't want to present being inherently compromised or hypocritical as acceptable attributes.'

    I also feel responsible for the quality of my work; I hope and intend to produce the kind of literature that can
    withstand the test of time to be read a hundred or a thousand years from now. As far as intelligence goes, it's
    really a non-issue for me. I know a lot of information about a lot of things, but there's plenty of people who know
    way more than I do about any given subject, and I enjoy learning new things every single day of my life. ^.^

    What about you? Do you ever feel a sense of responsibility for the content / message of your creative work?

    - Alexandria de Loraine
     
  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I usually ask myself "what do I want to say with this," so I guess, in a way, it is about imposing my morals on the reader. There are some issues I do comment on through our writing (I co-write with my husband), like human greed, glorification of violence, objectification of humans (or more like treating them like commodities), individualism, anarchy, liberty, etc. But first and foremost it's about telling a story instead of harnessing the story to preach to the reader about thing X. Perhaps these two just intertwine, and it's very common for many writers to want to say something with their story (even with fluffy-ish YA books like The Hunger Games or Harry Potters).
     
  8. alexandriadeloraine
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    alexandriadeloraine Member

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    Hey there KaTrian;

    'What do I want to say?' is a good way to put it, thanks for that. That's rather along the lines of what I mean when I say I feel
    this kind of responsibility for the content of my work. I think about what purpose I want my work to serve. Another great author,
    who I think does similar things as I would like to, is George MacDonald; I'm especially fond of his story The Lost Princess.

    And yeah, I also have some lighter, 'fluffier' work outlined in the YA / paranormal romance genres, but even there I have some
    strong ideas about what I want to convey to the readers via the story I'm telling and the expression of the characters.

    It's great to hear you work with your husband, btw. I've heard Tolsoy's primary editor was his wife, and there are many other
    writer couples throughout history, so evidently good things can come from such pairings. ;)

    - Alexandria de Loraine
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To be honest, I tend to put a book down if there isn't something underneath the surface, some message, some more or less deep meaning or reason for that story to exist. But that's just me.

    Haha, hope so :) It sure is a lot of fun (and very, very productive...)
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't see that using violent acts as entertainment fulfills any worthy 'moral' code, whether or not the writer justifies it to him/herself by making it clear after the fact that such behavior is wrong... my own sense of morality made me give up writing or helping anyone to write fiction containing any violent content, as i finally saw that doing is perpetuating such behaviors in real life and making them appear to be a 'natural' aspect of the human condition, when in fact, it's a choice made by sentient beings who possess free will and are thus capable of not committing such evil acts against their own kind and their fellow members of the animal kingdom...

    that's just my own view of the subject... not intended to be a sermon, simply a statement in response to the questions posed by the op... not intended to start a debate here that would highjack the thread, so please reserve argument/debate for another thread, or private communication...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  11. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    We tackle quite a few touchy subjects with KaTrian, so when we discuss things like "when, if ever, is hurting another person justified," we have to look at the scene on a case by case basis, from several point of views, and consider how our representation of the scene could be interpreted by potential readers and will the most likely interpretations go against what we want to say with the scene. We also like to pose open-ended questions: was a character's decision justified? Sometimes we are ambiguous on purpose if we want to make the reader rethink their own stand on some issue.

    One thing I want to avoid is the Sucker Punch-effect: a story that's supposedly about empowering women, but turns out to be just another exploitation fantasy. There's a danger of that whenever you portray violence against women, so we tread carefully when writing such scenes, but we do write them.

    That's the thing about violence, actually: I know from experience what real-world violence is like. That's why I very much dislike any portrayals of violence in books / movies / TV that show it as something cool / fun. When I write a scene of violence, I try to make it so gruesome and claustrophobic that the reader would feel sick reading it, just like they would if they were in a fight themselves, give them an adrenaline dump, send their hearts racing. This doesn't necessarily mean graphic depictions of extreme gore; usually I go the opposite route: no blood, no gore, but instead of focusing only on the physics of the tussle, I pay more attention to the emotional reactions of the characters, the fear they feel etc.

    This is my way of showing that violence is not entertainment, it's not cool, and it's not fun, even when you're on the giving end. I'm sure this alienates some readers because those scenes tend to be pretty ugly, but I have long since given up the idea that it would be possible in any shape or form to please everyone; it just can't be done, so instead I focus on what I like, showcasing things I find important and think deserve to see the light of day, things like human trafficking and what goes on behind the scenes in the sex industry.

    I try to do my preaching in this fashion, trying to make the reader feel something, because I feel that being more blatant than that would just get in the way of the story. Unless, of course, I'm being sarcastic, writing a parody etc.
     

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