Monday, January 23, 2012

Randy Ingermanson's Take on the Moral Premise: Part Two

This Mixing-it-Up Monday, Randy Ingermanson is back for his second installment of this great series on the moral premise. Read on! ~ Annette

Creating: The Moral Premise--Part Two
by Randy Ingermanson

Please understand that Stan (the author of The Moral Premise) doesn't recommend that your book should be only about nice people. Plenty of great fiction is about people who aren't nice.

THE GODFATHER is a great novel about a mafia family that isn't a bit nice. THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is a great novel about a psychopathic assassin. GONE WITH THE WIND is a great novel about some loveable rogues whom you'd kick to the curb if you met them in real life.

The key thing to understand when talking about a Moral Premise is that the story needs to end "right" even if the beginning and middle are "all wrong."

In the second DIE HARD movie, we see an airliner full of people get blown up right near the end. And the audience cheers. Why?

Because the airliner is full of bad guys who are escaping the long arm of the law. They've spent the whole movie doing Bad Stuff, but in the end, they get
the only possible justice.

No, that doesn't always happen in real life. In real life, sometimes the bad guys get away. In real life, sometimes the good guys get reamed.

People don't read fiction to get another dose of real life. They already know real life sucks, mostly.

People read fiction to see things work out the way they "ought" to work out.

In fiction, the bad guys should get whacked in the end. The good guy should get justice. Or the promotion. Or the girl. Or whatever else he was trying to get.

In fiction, characters should get what they deserve, in a way the reader doesn't expect.

Let's remember that you don't have to write your fiction in black and white. In fact, you generally shouldn't. You've got a lot of shades of gray to work
with and you're allowed to use them all.

Very often, the protagonist is both good and bad and has to make a decision about which way to go. Every reader knows that the "right" decision "needs" to be rewarded and the "wrong" decision "needs" to be punished.

You can write this as a simple design pattern: [Virtue] leads to [Good Result], but [Vice] leads to [Bad Result].

Here, you need to fill in [Virtue] with any particular virtue you want—honesty, sincerity, justice, love, humility, whatever. Then you need to fill in [Vice] with some particular vice opposed to your chosen virtue. Likewise, you need to fill in [Good Result] and [Bad Result] with the good or bad things that "ought" to be the results in a fair universe.


This E-zine is copyright Randall Ingermanson, 2011.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 28,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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  1. Love this! I attended Stan's class at ACFW this year, and really enjoyed it.

  2. Hey Delia, I just ordered the paperback version of the book. I could get it in e-book format, but I want to be able to highlight it in color. :)

  3. You'll be glad you have that option, Annette! :)


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