Monday, January 30, 2012

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

Hasn't this series been helpful? Randy's explanation helped solidify some things for me where the topic of including the moral premise in my writing was concerned. And now I can be more intentional about it. How about you? Read on for the final installment. ~ Annette

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

Let's be clear on one thing. We don't actually live in a fair universe. In the world we live in, murderers, rapists, and con men all too often go free. Decent people all too often get whacked.

The Moral Premise of a story is not about what is. It's about what "ought" to be. Your reader knows perfectly well what "ought" to be, and so do you.

If your fiction violates what both you and your reader know "ought" to be, then your Moral Premise is bogus and you're going to make your reader intensely unhappy.

The surprising thing I learned from talking to Stan is that in a well-crafted story, the Moral Premise applies to EVERY character. One way or another, the good guy, the bad guy, the love interest, the sidekick, the class joker—everybody—is playing out the same Moral Premise.

This really puzzled me. Could it possibly be true? I decided to analyze my award-winning novel OXYGEN, (which I just republished as an e-book last month).

My co-author and I never really much thought about the Moral Premise for OXYGEN. We just wrote a story we liked. Was it possible that, even without thinking about it, we had crafted a Moral Premise into our story that applied to all our characters at once?

The answer turned out to be yes.

The Moral Premise of OXYGEN is very simple: “Honesty leads to mutual trust, but dishonesty leads to mutual distrust and suspicion.”

I quickly verified that every single major character in OXYGEN is wrestling with exactly this Moral Premise. We didn't design this into the story. It just happened. We built it in by intuition. But as I recall, it took about fifteen drafts to get the story right.

And that's why it's important to study this stuff.

Stan makes a great point in his book: If you ask yourself what the Moral Premise of your story is as you develop it, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort, and you won't have to depend on your intuition, which is often unreliable.

There is much more to say about a Moral Premise and how it works. Stan talks about something he calls the "moment of grace" which makes a lot of sense to me. I'm not going to discuss that here.

If you want to know the mechanics of the "moment of grace" and how to integrate it into your story structure, then get Stan's book. He worked hard on it, and he deserves to get paid for his ideas.

I highly recommend THE MORAL PREMISE, by Stan Williams. It's a brilliant idea. I'm going to use Stan's methods in the future on every novel I write, because I think it'll save me a lot of time.

And it'll probably save me someday from writing a story that just won't fly with my readers. Great power, great responsibility, and all that.

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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