The Moral Premise

Posted On Oct 11 2013 by


20131011-073918.jpgHappy Friday and welcome to day 2 of NaNoPlotMo. Again, we’re behind schedule, so no Fun Friday today. Time to get to work. Yesterday you should have come up with an idea, concept, and an Ironic Hook (which I sometimes call an Ironic Premise, I’ll try to stay with Hook from now on). Take you protagonist’s biggest fear or weakness and make her face it head on. Maybe your protag is deathly afraid of tight spaces and finds himself pursuing his wife’s killer through the Mammoth Caves. Or he’s a devout Christian and refutes violence but is morally obligated to fight in a war (Sgt. York). You get the idea.

Your Moral Premise

Today we’re going to develop our Moral Premise. Here’s Stanley Williams’ definition of the Moral Premise:

Vice leads to defeat

but Virtue leads to success

This is the guiding premise for every character, story line, and of course, the main plot. One example might be:

Greed leads to loneliness and despair,
Generosity leads to joy and adoration.

Yes, that would be A Christmas Carol.

Work hard on the Moral Premise. Like I said, you’ll apply it to every character, especially the protagonist and antagonist. The difference is that your protagonist will accept the virtue at the novel’s midpoint, but your antagonist will go deeper into the vice. This is the typical story line. Unless you’re in Europe, let’s shoot for the happy ending, shall we?

So let’s try an example:

imageMy Ironic Hook is: A Wall Street Executive is pursued by government agents after the Last Great Crash, but finds himself the only witness to a murder in which a young, poor man is wrongfully accused.

It needs work to get the irony out in that one line, but you can sense it. This is really what I’m working on right now, by the way. Let’s pause for a moment and think Log Line, or Elevator Pitch. Does this one sentence hook you? If you saw this as a movie description, would you spend $10 to see it? Think hard here! If you cannot sell your story in one line, you’ll never sell it. Imagine yourself plopping into a chair across from that agent or publisher. You’ve got one chance, about ten seconds, to grab their interest. If you don’t, they’re already thinking about what to have for lunch.

By the way, the shorter the better. Mine’s a bit long, so I’ll continue to work on it today. Once you’re satisfied with your Ironic Hook or Log Line (and have tried it on someone who will be honest), move on to the Moral Premise.

Here’s mine:

Sacrificing Liberty for Security leads to Tyranny,
but Refusing Security and fighting for Liberty leads to Freedom.

Wait a minute Ron. What does that have to do with a Wall Street Executive on the run from the feds? Well you’ll have to wait and see. I could have gone with a different Moral Premise. Something like: Self-seeking and mistrust of others leads to imprisonment, but self-sacrifice leads to freedom. That’s good, too. But I’m trying to tell a story.

But isn’t that second premise a story, too? Yes it is, but it’s not my story. Not the one I want to tell. I want to tell the story of America. It’s fall and it’s rebirth to come. It’s an old story that has been told thousands of times before, but not the way I’ll tell it. Remember, your Moral Premise doesn’t have to match Ironic Hook. The Moral Premise tells the story of every character, every story line, even the setting. The Moral Premise will hang over your desk and drive you to tell your story with as much depth as possible. No wasted words. No meandering subplots. It all ties together. Think of your novel as a parable. You’re trying to make a point. The Moral Premise is that point.

It may take you all weekend to nail down your Moral Premise and Log line (or Hook). Get ’em right, though, and the story will begin to tell itself. I’ll continue tomorrow on to the next step. But take all the time you need here. Remember, if you’re not ready to start writing scenes by November 1st, that’s okay. You’ll just write your Awesome Best-Seller in December, or January, or maybe not ’til July. But we’re not wasting time by wasting words.

So let me know how you’re doing. Again, if you want a fresh set of eyes on your concept or premise, leave it in the comments.

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Last Updated on: October 11th, 2013 at 6:51 am, by Ron

Written by Ron

Just about everything I believe has been shaped by the written word. But books don't force a belief; they stir the imagination so that you, the reader, eventually draw your own conclusions. We grow richer in spirit when we read, deeper in our understanding of the universe and our role in it. That's why I read. That's why I write. To offer you a bit of myself. Come along on my journey, won't you? There's plenty of room.