Monday, April 19, 2021

Writing on Message: How to Separate Moral and Theme

By Mary Kole


When writers are casting around for story ideas, they often turn to the best teacher they’ve had: life itself. After all, the adage of “write what you know” exists for a reason. We all have had experiences—some emotionally impactful, some “stranger than fiction”—that we’d like to pass on to a wider audience. 


Starting with your lived experience is a great way of committing to a short story, essay, or even novel. (Obviously, life experience factors heavily into memoir.) But there’s something else at play when inspiration comes from real life: the moral of the story. We often write about our experience in order to learn from it ourselves, but also to pass insights onto others. Just a few days ago, I spoke to a writer who wanted to leave a cautionary tale of sorts for her daughter, but in fictionalized form. 


In picture books and books for young readers, it’s very easy to point a finger to a theme or moral that’s stated on the page. Writers who come to the page looking to teach young readers manners or facts about the world or lessons about mindfulness are often not subtle about it. For the record, I strongly discourage over teaching in children’s books because readers hear lectures all day long at home and school. There’s also a perceived unequal power dynamic, where we are the older/wiser writer, and they are the vessels needing to be filled with knowledge. Unfortunately, moralizing tends to disenfranchise young readers. (You can read more about this in these two posts: https://kidlit.com/preaching-in-picture-books/ and https://kidlit.com/picture-book-wisdom-from-without-vs-within/)


The Difference Between Moral and Theme


Things get a little bit less clear-cut when we write for an audience of our peers, who aren’t necessarily in need of schooling. Yet most books still have “something to say” that goes deeper than a good story. 


Also less clear-cut is the difference between moral and theme. Both deal with a larger central idea. Both come from a writer’s desire to communicate and be heard. But one is desirable, and the other, less so. 


Moral is the outright statement of your story’s point. Whether a character says something along the lines of your intended message, or it’s explained in imagery or direct statement (usually at the end of the story), this is meant to direct your reader, in no uncertain terms, to your intention behind writing the story. Having a moral is not bad. As I said, everyone has a point they’d like to make when they sit down to write. But in most cases, I would not state it outright in the story itself. Why?


Readers thrive on the joy of discovery when they read. They want to play detective. This is why “show, don’t tell” is such a mainstay of the fiction craft. You’ll want to show a character who learns to love against all odds in your plot if your moral is “love conquers all,” rather than trotting out this truism with them in conversation or at the end of the last chapter. Or the character can be faced with a choice of whether to pursue a relationship or career, and choose their relationship, in their commitment to love above all. The character may realize that they value love above all in an emotional turning point. Then this decision informs the rest of the story.


This is where we get close to theme. Whereas the moral is stated outright, the theme is the “mission statement” of your story as expressed in imagery, character, and plot choice. It’s your decision about the main ideological thrust of the story, and how it might play out in everything from your choice of location, your word choice, setting, character backstory, and past and present action.


It’s not a bad thing at all to have an idea driving your story. The liability only comes if you don’t trust your reader to follow along. How much of the theme do you need to explain via a stated moral? I’d recommend not explaining it at all, and running it past a beta reader or two. Then ask them what they think your story is about. If they nail it, good—your ideas are coming through well. If they can’t pinpoint it, see if you can plant the theme more in your character’s thoughts or actions. You have a lot of options that don’t include explaining your moral outright.


For more advanced story and business insights about writing and publishing, please check out the Good Story Learning membership: https://www.goodstorycompany.com/membership Join Mary Kole and the Good Story Company (https://goodstorycompany.com) team for nuanced exploration of all the writing and publishing topics that matter to today’s writer. You can also find Mary’s personal editorial services directly at Mary Kole Editorial (https://marykole.com).




Bio:


Former literary agent Mary Kole founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013 and provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance and memoir. She founded Good Story Company in 2019 with the aim of providing valuable content—like the Good Story Podcast and Crit Collective writing forum—to writers of all categories and ability levels.


She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at Kidlit.com since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

#IWSG APRIL 2021 - Literary Snobbery?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!        


April 7 optional question - Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 7 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton!




A reminder that the IWSG Book Club is currently reading:  

Our March/April/May reads are…




The High Mountains of Portugal
 by Yann Martel is our fiction selection that offers a great
use and example of description.


Deep Point of View (Busy Writer's Guides Book 9)
 by Marcy Kennedy is our writing craft book with a focus on deep POV view.

Discussion Day for both books will be May 26, 2021!

The 2021 Anthology Contest is around the corner. Watch this space for more details. 


From time to time, writers go through those rough patches where inspiration may be low or we just need a new challenge to get the juices flowing.

A reminder that there are many challenges within the online writing community, to keep you on your toes.


Write Edit Publish Now is a great platform to polish your flash fiction skills. 

Will you let Freedom Morning spark a flash of hope for a systematically suppressed character?

Will someone break free - of chains, of the past, of a closed mindset - after years of living with them?

Or maybe someone will watch a brand new sunrise and come to a decision to start life afresh? Rise to a challenge?  :)  Overcome a hardship?

Take the artwork as a whole or in part and seed that into imagination. Your canvas is unlimited.

The annual A to Z Blogging Challenge is a great opportunity to write for an entire month. It’s also a great way to meet other creatives. More information HERE.   

Have you joined our FACEBOOK group? A reminder that on the first Wednesday of each month, IWSG members who have blogs can add the link to their monthly blog hop post on our Facebook Group. It's a great way to connect with other IWSG members! 

You can check out our swag, which includes stationery, keychains, mugs and T-shirts HERE

LITERARY SNOBBERY...

What is literary snobbery? This topic has been on my mind for quite a while... 
In a nutshell, it includes classic literature versus modern literature and physical books versus e-books. We all know that there are some people in the world who feel that one type of literature is "better" than the rest. 

Scenario: My “ordinary” story (think basic, predictable plot) is read by 100 new-to-reading individuals. This is the book that "hooks" these brand new readers...
Your “fancy” classic-styled story (think intricate plot filled with twists and a whopper of a surprise) is read by 10 000 avid readers.

Which story is more valuable/ significant/ beneficial {insert suitable word}? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Are you a risk-taker when writing? What is your perspective when it comes to literary snobbery? Have you considered signing up for the Anthology Contest, Write Edit Publish or the annual A to Z Blogging Challenge?

Monday, March 29, 2021

Little By Little


Haven't written anything in ages. Why do I bother? I should be writing. Those 500 words don't amount to much. What else could I be doing? 

Such thoughts have ran through many a mind in many a variation forever. Since cavemen started drawing on walls they have been there. Okay, maybe not as elaborate, but they have still been there. Cavemen didn't think past drawing on the wall? Bah. No cavemen to ask so no proof until you invent time travel. Where were we? Right. Thoughts. Self doubt. All kinds of thoughts spinning the drain. But you can avoid the drain. Just look at what you have done. 

500 words is 500 words more than you had before, 500 words more than someone who says they will write but never do, and 500 words more that you are closer to the end of your story.

You don't have to write to be writing. Well kinda. Ideas can still form and your mind can rest and recharge. Not to mention your body. That needs a break from sitting all day too. 

You could be doing 50,000 other things. But you can only focus on a few things and make headway. Sure you can join every social media thingy majiggy on the internet, but you will spread yourself too thin and be overworked with little done on each. Focus on what you are doing and not the "could" be doing for the moment. Could can come later after you've worked on the others and feel comfortable adding something else.

Those are just a few examples of how to spin the negative thoughts. You can always switch them around. There has to be some positive to it, even if mostly negative sometimes, unless you are doing absolutely nothing. But then by doing absolutely nothing you aren't making spelling mistakes. See? Positive too!

And if you can't find it then ask someone else. Preferably not a negative nelly though. Join a group like this one. Plenty of members will help lift you up. Blogland is a great place to find encouragement. There is always a spin to make those thoughts stop spinning the drain. You just have to want to look.

Have you ever had such thoughts? How do you get out of a writing funk? Writing much lately? Ever helped someone see they were doing more than they thought?