Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing Class in a Post

Missy, here. I'm going to be presenting the program at the next meeting of the Georgia Romance Writers. I've been working on my talk this week and was thinking about giving you a hint here today. My topic is about premise. Or, to be more specific, The Moral Premise as discussed in the book by Stanley D. Williams (The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success).

But then I remembered a great interview with my agent, Natasha Kern, where she talks about premise. And where she also basically gives a writing class in one post! It's excellent. So rather than try to do a short summary, I'd like to give you a link to her post on the Seekerville blog from April 2009. I hope you'll hop over there, read it, then come back to let me know what you think. Do you use premise in your stories?

To read Natasha's excellent post:  Click Here Then don't forget to come back and comment!


  1. Missy,
    What a great post. I've printed it out. It will be great to read while doing my revisions.
    Thanks for sharing and I'm looking forward to your talk on Saturday.

  2. Hi Missy:

    I read Natasha’s excellent post and it is like a complete workshop. Everything seems to be covered. This type of workshop makes for a good refresher course.

    I also like to take workshops that are very focused on one topic where I learn many things I did not know – even though they are in a narrow band in the spectrum of learning a craft.

    A problem with focused workshops is that they can devolve quickly into generalized sessions when student questions lead the discussion astray. One of the hardest jobs of a teacher in these cases is keeping the topic focused and doing it diplomatically. (I’ve given over 3,000, 3-hour workshop/seminars and this is always a battle.)

    As a philosopher, I would love a workshop on moral premise. I see two dangers in this: being too preachy in tone and being heavy handed with your assumptions. (Aristotle’s Golden Mean would apply here – moderation in all things.)

    I think a great example of moral premise is found in Ruth Logan Herne’s “Made to Order Family*”. In this book the Serenity Prayer is given as the moral premise and the two major characters continually exemplify the wisdom of this prayer by their actions throughout the story. It seems very simple: ‘here is the premise and here are the characters living by the premise’. This is very hard to do however.

    Another interesting consideration with using the Serenity Prayer is that it is not particularly religious. ‘Moral’ does not have to mean ‘religious’. The ancient Greeks would have been very comfortable with the Serenity Prayer. I even think the Serenity Prayer is embedded in the concept of “Know thy self”.

    This points to another consideration. The difference between a moral premise and a religious premise. One might say that the religious premise of “Made to Order Family” is “redemption and forgiveness” while the moral premise addresses the moral duty to try and change what you can but not what you can’t and being wise enough to know the difference. (I see this as creating a moral imperative to strive to acquire wisdom.)

    Moral: the moral premise does not have to be specifically religious and it is well served when demonstrated by the lives of the characters. (Show don’t tell.)

    What do you think? Has this been too philosophical? Sometimes I can’t help myself. : )

    Good luck on your workshop. I’d love to be there.


    *While you may not have read “Made to Order Family”, I know you will. : )

  3. Yes, Lindi, it'll be great to have on hand while revising!

    I'll see you Saturday!

  4. Vince, it's interesting you should hit on the moral premise not necessarily being religious. It definitely doesn't have to be, but I've found it really lends itself well to Christian fiction.

    Also, in the book, Williams talks about the moral premise having two sides--the vice and the virtue. It takes it a bit further than just stating a theme.

    For example, my moral premise for my upcoming book (A Family for Faith, April 2011) is:
    Protecting ourselves leads to unhappiness, but being generous with our love (even if it's risky) will lead to true happiness.

    Now, that's very general and not necessarily "religious." But for me, in writing with this premise, of course I went to the Scriptures in my mind. By the time I finished writing the book, I had this theme verse:

    There is no fear in love, but full-grown love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love.
    I John 4:18
    Amplified Bible

    What's fun when you have your moral premise from the beginning is that every scene (and Williams tells you to do this) demonstrates that premise.

    For example, my hero, whose first wife died, is scared to risk loving again. So much so that his fear eventually pushes the heroine away. But she was the best thing that had happened for him and his daughter, and he eventually realizes (after reading that Scripture!) what he's lost due to fear of loving again.

    Also, my heroine, whose been rejected by a father and a husband (and somewhat by her son), is afraid of trusting the hero's love (especially after he drew away from her). So she has to realize she's been pushing him away by being...well, pushy! She's been pretty much rushing him from his grieving.

    Anyway, that's simplifying something that took 250 pages to show. But I'm hoping that each scene furthers the moral premise.

    In the Moral Premise book (and Vince, you would love Williams' book!), Mr. Williams has a chart that really helps me. You show the character practicing the vice in the beginning of the story, then about mid-story, the character gets a glimpse of how it could be (a moment of grace, he calls it). The character starts to choose the virtue. Then by the end, the character is living the virtue and experiencing fullness and happiness.

    So now, I guess I have my talk ready to go! Cut and paste! :)

  5. And yes, I will read Made to Order Family! I've ordered it and it's on the way. :)

  6. Hi Missy:

    That Bible quote is perfect! I can’t say I’ve ever seen it used for a romance. I’ve tried to buy “The Moral Premise” in the past but I needed larger type. I just checked and the book is now available as a Kindle. I just downloaded it and can’t wait to read it! It’s looks wonderful from the Table of Contents.

    I think your workshop and your book are spot on. Everything just seems to weave together. I wish I could be there but perhaps one day I will be – if you do a ACFW convention. I will go next year.

    The vice/virtue continuum is very classical. Aristotle uses the idea in his ethical theory.

    Thanks again for the heads-up on Williams’ book.


  7. Vince, I'm glad you were able to download it! Williams talk a lot about Aristotle. I think it's right up your alley. :)

  8. Vince, I must chime in here and say I appreciate your comment. You brought up a lot of good points. And I, like Missy, like how you state the moral premise isn't necessarily religious.
    With the discussion you two had I'm going to have to go and buy the book. It sounds like a great How-To-Book.
    I'm thinking about my moral premise in the book I'm revising now.
    Hmmmm... Not sure if I have one. Could be a problem. I'll see if I can delve into what it is. I'll be back if I figure it out!

  9. I'm back.

    What about:

    Living a life controlled by others leads to confusion and bad decisions. A fulfilled life comes from knowing who you are in Christ. Every action and decision will not be right or perfect, but will be grounded in a solid foundation.

    Okay, this is really spiritual. I'll be thinking on this today.

  10. Lindi, it sounds good. But I think you could simplify it little to make it easier to apply to both characters.

    Living a life controlled by others leads to confusion and bad decisions. But living a life controlled by God leads to clarity and fulfillment. (or something like that).

    I'm thinking about what I remember from the version of your story that I read thinking that may fit.

  11. Missy,

    Thanks for the link to the article. I've printed it out and am going to read it tomorrow while I work. I'm sad to say I won't get to hear you speak because of work, but the extra cash is what's helping me get to Indy. Maybe I can get notes from someone.

    I hope to see you guys on Tuesday though!