Moral: The Meaning of Your Story

The moral of any story is the meaning.

The reason the story is being told.

The point.

But what does that mean practically?

A “moral” is a value judgment being made about an aspect of human behavior.

An opinion, that takes a look at some human action/state/behavior and decides if it’s positive or negative.

Ex: “Killing is evil.”

That’s a very simplistic one, but you get the point. It’s a definitive value judgment being made about human behavior.

Usually the true moral of a story won’t be completely revealed until the end. It’s in the final resolution of your tale that the final moral judgement is communicated.

But how do we do this?

How do we bake a moral into our story?
Just have somebody say “killing’s bad” in the final scene while a beloved character dies?

No.

First you need to craft a “moral statement.” A full moral statement is a judgement, with a justification.

Ex: “Killing is evil because it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.”

We’re making a judgement: killing is evil.
But we’re also giving a specific reason that this is so: because it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.

Now that we have this full moral statement, we’ve got to find a way to weave it into the fabric of our story. How do we do that?

We look at the core idea behind that moral statement (the issue of killing), and come up with different ways to argue the various sides of the issue. At the end of the story, we’ll land on the side our full moral statement references.

By the end, our story will have “argued” the various sides of the issue to such a satisfactory degree, that the full moral statement, and its judgement, won’t feel like a subjective opinion anymore. It’ll feel more like an objective fact.

So how do we do this “arguing” through the structure of the story?

There are three different methods:

  • Pro/Con
  • Inverse
  • Four Point Alternation

Pro/Con

It’s what is sounds like.

You have a moral statement, and you explore the positive side and negative side.

Ultimately falling on one side of the argument, by the end of your story.

What’s that look like?

  • You give some attention to the idea that killing is evil.
  • You give some attention to the idea that killing is good.

You explore both the “pro” and “con” of your moral statement idea.

By the end, you completely communicate your moral statement by falling on the side of the argument that you originally intended and designed. In this case, you fall on the side of killing being evil.

And you demonstrate this fact in the end, with the “because” – it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.

Inverse

You pit one idea against its inverse – the opposite, contradictory expression of the idea.

What’s our first idea?
It’s about killing. Specifically that killing is evil.

What’s the inverse?
It’s not that killing is good.
That’s pro/con type thinking.

Okay, so what’s the real inverse?
It’s that keeping people alive is evil.

So:

  • You give some attention to the idea that killing people is evil.
  • You give some attention to the idea that keeping people alive is evil.

Then you end your story on the moral statement you crafted before you began:
Killing is evil – because it never solves a problem, it only causes more pain.

Four Point Alternation

This is the most complex form of moral argument.

You have one idea, and you put it in direct conflict with another, separate, idea.

Let’s say “killing is the source of all sorrow” vs. “selfishness is the source of all sorrow.” Two different ideas. Notice that in this argument, the source of sorrow can’t really be both. It’s got to be one or the other.

Okay, well now we have two points of argument. But it’s called “four” point alternation. Where are the other two points?

Well, we take these two ideas, and we apply either the pro/con method, or the inverse method, to both of them.

For our example here, let’s use the inverse:

  • Killing is the source of all sorrow.

and (its inverse):

  • Keeping people alive is the source of all sorrow.

vs.

  • Selfishness is the source of all sorrow.

and (its inverse):

  • Altruism is the source of all sorrow.

We now have four points to argue. That’s a packed moral argument!

As you go through your story, you weave these ideas into your plot, your characters, and your scenes. Each movement forward is making one of these four arguments.

By the end of your story, you land on one statement as the ultimate truth.

To sum up!

Four Point Alternation:

The most complex form of moral argument. Very effective when you have two different ideas in direct conflict with one another. You get to explore each idea, and each idea’s positive and negative sides.

The Inverse Method:

Better when you want to focus on just one central concept, and explore it in full.

Pro/Con:

Best when you want a more simplistic examination of just one idea. And suss out whether it’s good or bad.

Go with whichever method feels best for your story.

But you’ve got to have one of ’em. Otherwise, no matter how good your story is, it’ll ultimately be without meaning.



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