Guest Blog: How Important is a Moral Premise with Jeannie Campbell

Today I'd like to welcome the lovely Jeannie Campbell to the blog today. I met Jeannie early on in the blog-hood because her job caught my eye--Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. For those of you who don't know, before I turned into a writer/stay at home mom, I was a licensed social worker who provided therapy to children and their families and did adoption work. So I was happy to meet another therapist/writer.

And I love how Jeannie incorporates her clinical background with writing. If you haven't visited her site The Character Therapist, you're missing out. Today, Jeannie's talking to us about stories having a moral premise AND she's giving away a copy of the Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories!  So be sure to comment and leave your email address if you'd like to be included in the contest.

Take it away Jeannie...

How Important is Moral Premise?


Jeannie Campbell, LMFT

I used to think characters were the most important aspect of fiction writing. (This from a character-driven novelist/therapist. Go figure.) But after doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that the moral premise might be the most important thing in a book outside of the actual story premise.

The moral premise of a story is a single sentence statement describing the lesson of the story as it reflects on real life. Filmmakers have gotten the hang of this quicker than fiction writers, but Aristotle knew way back when that there was a correlation between a play’s moral message and it’s popularity. (Read his Poetics.)

When the moral premise of a movie sits “right” with the audience, that movie does better in the box office. Word of mouth spreads like my white cat sheds hairs—prolifically. On the flip side, if the moral premise is deceitful, the movie doesn’t do so well and people don’t tell their friends to go see it.

The same can and should be said for fiction. 

There are three ways people learn: experience, observation, and lecture. Lecture has the least to recommend it, experience the most, or the reason that the learner is using more of their senses. The more senses engaged, the greater the emotional tension and physical/emotional risk, thus the deeper the learning.

But fiction is unique in that is puts the reader in the position of learning via vicarious experience. The reader is (hopefully) transported into a new world that should become real to them. The reader should put themselves into the protagonist’s shoes, feeling the butterflies before a first kiss or the building apprehension the longer the killer goes free.

Some authors are simply gifted storytellers, weaving a tale that enthralls us. Others utilize the moral premise as well as draw from their innate author skills, and these are the books that capture the nation and beyond.

I’ll draw upon the cult following of The Twilight Saga to make my point. This set of books took America by storm. Stephenie Meyer wrote a book that spoke to the hearts of women (and men who will admit it), both young and old. Why?

Twilight is about love conquering all and not being able to choose with whom you fall in love. It’s a modern-day fairytale. (Why do you think factories are still pumping out DVDs of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast? They know that little girls everywhere dream about a prince coming one day. It’s timeless.)

Meyer’s book is essentially about Bella finding her prince. True, he’s a vamp, which means they have a few obstacles to overcome, namely Edward’s lust for her blood. But what book wouldn’t be complete without obstacles? It’s the obstacles that become your story premise.

Hopefully this simplistic assessment of Twilight’s universal appeal through its moral premise will get the wheels turning in your head about your story’s premise. Can you narrow it down to one sentence? Is it something that people can relate to, that they will want to talk about on their commute into town?

If you need any assistance at all with deciphering the moral premise within your story premise, please visit me at my new website, The Character Therapist. I do free mini-assessments for characters and charge a moderate rate for full, detailed assessments.

You can also sign up for my newsletter, Case Notes, and receive a free Writer’s Guide to Character Motivation. I have several other Guides for sale at my Therapy Store, so check it out!

Thanks, Roni, for hosting me on your blog today. I’m grateful to you and your readers for your time. Hopefully I’ll see some of you again on my couch. 

Feel free to ask Jeannie any questions in the comments and be sure to leave your EMAIL ADDRESS if you want to be included in the contest! (Contest open until midnight tomorrow night. Jeannie will contact winner directly.)

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