Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Are You Reading Thursday - Fiona Harper

What is your story really about? Do you know? Should you care? Today Fiona Harper tells us about a book she's been reading that is having a great impact on her writing - The Moral Premise by Stanley D. Williams Ph.D

I've been interested in the concept of the 'inner' story for some time now. When I say 'inner story', I mean not what a story is about, but what it's really about. Sound confusing? Humour me a little...

Stan Williams, a filmaker and filmaking lecturer, says that in the course of his research, he's noticed that nearly every film that is a box office success has something in common, whether it's an action movie or a rom com or an quirky independent film. Why should we be paying attentions to box office successes? Because these stories obviously resonate with their audience, and that's what I want to write - stories that engage my readers, books they find impossible to put down. So I paid attention to what Dr Williams had to say.

That common element? A strong and consistently applied moral premise. By 'moral' he doesn't mean something preachy or judgemental, merely that what others have referred to as the 'theme' or the 'controlling idea' of the story taps into universal values - things like friendship, courage, honour, freedom, generosity or unconditional love - qualities we'd all like to see more of in our world and in our lives.

The moral premise is not just closely linked to the 'inner story'; it is the inner story - what your book is really about.

Let's think about the film Titanic...

It's about a supposedly unsinkable boat that hits an iceberg and ends up at the bottom of the sea. This is the external story. You could even go a level deeper and say it is a story about two star-crossed lovers who try to escape the tragedy so they can start a new life together. But that isn't everything about Titanic.

I had already worked out before I read 'The Moral Premise' that the theme of a successful story was closely tied to the protagonist's emotional journey, but this book helped me collect my thoughts on this matter, expanded on them, and filled in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

So...what is the Moral Premise?
Stan Williams simply says it is a statment of truth about the protagonist's psychological predicament (what I call inner conflict).
The inner story of Titanci is Rose's story - a young woman's quest to escape from her suffocting life of restrictions and duty to a life of freedom and adventure.

This truth is often presented to a protagonist in various ways throughout His or her story, but there is usually one moment when it is most clear - what Williams calls the 'moment of grace'. At this point, the main character has a choice to make. They can either accept the truth presented to them - which will normally lead to change for the better, meaning a happy ending, or they can reject that truth and suffer the consequences!

In Titanic, Rose's moment of grace occurs not long before the mid-point of the story. Her mother and her fiancé have been reminding her of her duty, so when Jack sneaks up to first class to see her, she says she can't see him again, but he tells her he fears that if she doesn't break free of her life, the fire inside her will burn out.

Rose has a choice to make - choose a life of suffocation and duty or a life of adventure and freedom. She seems to choose the former, telling Jack to leave her alone, but in the following scene she has her 'moment of grace'.

She sits silently, talking tea with her mother and some other society ladies, bored stiff by the sa
me inane conversation, and she glances across to a neighbouring table, where a mother is fussing over a little girl, making sure her daughter sits up straight, places her napkin just-so. And in that moment, Rose knows that's what her life will be, it's all it can ever be if she chooses to side with Cal and her mother.

Cal has already stated that he expects her to 'honour' him by behaving as a proper society wife should, and it's clear that Rose will be expected to live by his rules, his choices. Rose will be like that little girl in the tea room, her actions and speech, maybe even her thoughts, decided for her by other people. And in the last moments of the scene, the camera zooms in on her eyes, and we know she is fully aware of the fate she has chosen for herself. She has been confronted by the truth of the film's moral premise - and she chooses to accept that truth.

The following scene is a key one for Rose and Jack. She shows up to meet him on the bow of the ship at sunset. She's changed her mind, made her real choice. From the moment she meets Jack here, her destiny takes a different course, and it's no accident that it's here that Jack and Rose share their first kiss.

Fiona's latest book The Bridesmaid's Secret is available now online in the UK and North America and on Amazon.

In her designer suits Jackie Patterson, editor of Gloss! magazine, can take on the world. Yet the moment she arrives in Italy for a big Bella Rosa wedding, and sees her old boyfriend Romano Puccini, her groomed façade disappears. She has a seventeen-year-old secret to tell him from that fateful, sultry Italian summer…

1 comment:

  1. Fiona, I LOVE the sound of this book! Have placed it on my wishlist at the Book Depository.

    Thanks for the recommendation!