By Gail Kittleson
Some of you may have read The Moral Premise/Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D. Not exactly light reading, this book is a must if our goal is to improve our fiction writing skills, because the premise is the glue that holds our stories together.
Once you get the hang of it, creating moral premises can be fun. Here’s one for In This Together, my first recent fiction sale—did I say I’m excited?
Playing it safe results in unfulfilled dreams, but taking risks leads to new vistas.
The premise states the circumstances in which readers meet our heroine or hero, often a predicament requiring growth. How will the characters react to what life hands them, and what must occur in order to reach their goals? The story reveals how characters change and mature as they face challenges.
Interestingly, a moral premise applies not only to the protagonist, but to other characters as well. A villain may manifest the premise in a way totally opposite our main character, but the reader will arrive at the same conclusion through both of their actions.
That sounds complicated, but think how we understand a truth—haste makes waste, for example. Hurried, harried people teach us this maxim, but so do careful, efficient folks who manage time and tasks well. Switch the wording—taking time for tasks leads to success.
Another example: we can become caring adults through good role models. But the back side of this truth works, too—uncaring people show us who we don’t want to become. We all know individuals who rise above bad childhood examples.
Dottie, the heroine of In This Together, is living proof. Reared in poverty and chaos, she shows no resemblance to her abusive, neglectful father, takes responsibility for herself and her family and finds ways to contribute to her community after losing her son during World War II and her husband soon after.
That brings me to another moral premise. Grief decimates, but time and friendship bring healing. Which premise best fits Dottie’s story? This one works for her, for Al, the widower next door who bides his time to reveal his attraction to her, and for Bonnie Mae, a new employee at the boarding house where Dottie works.
Helene, the rather nasty house proprietor, exhibits the opposite of this premise. She concocts bitterness out of life’s challenges instead of making lemonade.
So we come to several questions. Can a single work have more than one moral premise? And is it essential to nail down the premise before we begin the first draft? What about pansters?
Recently, Tracy Groot, whose successful fiction exhibits strong moral premises, described her writing process. Rather than focusing on the premise, she simply lets her characters live out their lives.
I can identify. When Dottie’s story presented itself to me, no moral premise was emblazoned on my mind. But as her personality and reactions took shape, a premise emerged. If I’d waited for thorough understanding, the manuscript would still be a twinkle in my eye.
I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on this topic.
DARE TO BLOOM!
Catching Up With Daylight inspires through contemporary women’s stories, ancient meditation practices, and encouragement to live in the present moment,
is available on Amazon. She also wrote Celebrating Christmas and Celebrating Easter for Abingdon Press.