As a reader, I don't think a piece of fiction needs to teach a moral lesson. I've enjoyed stories without lessons, and I think one can still learn from stories without lessons. As a writer, though, I have felt in the last few months that I would like my own stories to deal with morality in some way. I want my own work to make people question morality.
No. I don't think it's a problem if it does have some sort of moral, but it doesn't seem absolutely necessary. Although - lack of a moral could be a moral in itself. Like 'Lolita'. Where was the moral in that? Except that you could say - just don't ever be like Humbert Humbert and you'll be okay in this life. Also, say moral too many times and it becomes one of those fake sounding words...
All storytelling is thematic by nature. Because sentences are propositions and propositions inherently make truth claims, we are slinging claims about the way things are left and right whenever we pick up the pen. This needn't devolve into messy moralism, but we can't deny that we're entreating others to see existence in a particular way when we write.
Loren: Good point. I agree that there is an implied moral/ethical framework to every statement even if unintended by the speaker. But how's about intentional moral statements? Incumbent upon fictioneers?
No. I do agree with Davin that readers can "still learn from stories without lessons".
Every story I have ever read that "teaches a moral" is something that I taught myself - not something the author intended. Any obvious morals I usually ignore or miss completely. When someone says later (like in my English classes in college) that this story "taught this" or "intended that" I often widen my eyes in shock. Really? That's not what I got out of it. I got "this or that" because I'm going through "this or that" in my life right now and that's what I interpreted.I guess, in short, I don't believe a story has to intentionally teach a moral. I think readers will take it from what they will, and possibly more so if the story tends to lean in the "moral" direction.
No. I think the best stories are observational ones with minimal author intrusion where the reader can draw his own conclusion. That's why I hated Pullman's last two books in the His Dark Materials trilogy (this coming from an atheist).Also why I sometimes have a hard time with books like Feed by MT Anderson. Not as blatantly preachy, but still blatant. Hypocritical catch -- not sure why I'm a huge fan of Animal Farm... perhaps in part because I love the irony that Orwell had socialist leanings.Satire's hard to do well (and I think both Feed and AF pull it off), but subtlety's harder, if less appreciated.
First- I think in fiction- discussing morality and trying to 'teach a moral lesson' are two very different things..I think a writer's role is more in the documentation of a character's experience of truth/morality (either as it reflects the author's own stand or not) than in manipulating what the reader takes from it. I think what the reader takes from it should be dependent on the reader and not necessarily shaped by what the author intends/believes. AT the most, the lesson could be implied but I am not convinced that it would make for great fiction, even if it is very tempting to do as a writer.I think I am starting to go on in circles - so I'll stop..:)Lavanya
I don't think fiction is obligated to teach a moral lesson, but I don't object to one that has a strong moral theme (intended or otherwise) as long as it is a good read.
I believe our first duty as storytellers is to entertain. We can present moral views, especially through characters, but nothing tends to wear me out more than a book getting preachy. I just feel like the author has broken the spell, stepped out from behind the curtain, and delivered a quick stump speech for political office. Characters with strong morals, for good or bad, are compelling. Characters who question their commitment to their morals can be even more interesting. Characters who blindly think the world agrees with them can be useful to moving a story along or adding friction. And characters obviously representing a straw man of the author's views are boring.
What about books for kids?
My no is almost stronger for kids' books because I usually have different values than the majority, and I guess I wouldn't want the "other" values propagated. My nephew once asked me to read him a book about values I was very against, and it saddened me that he was learning things that I didn't necessarily agree with before he was old enough to really evaluate them.
Actually, for kids, I'd lean more toward yes, with the caveat that it goes in line with what the parents want to teach (so, by kids, I'm assuming a younger age range. For older kids, not so much).
They don't have to, but I think they should. You can read a story just for fun, but what is the point of that? If I wrote an exciting story that got published but didn't have a moral, I would not feel like I accomplished anything or contributed to anything.
I used to believe that our first duty as storytellers was to moralize. Then I believed that our first duty was to entertain. Now I don't believe either of those things.
Scott, what do you believe? Or are you going to elaborate on that later?
Michelle: Suspense is good storytelling.
Oh, I had no idea.:P
Morality is part of our decision making processes. A character's decision is laden with moral consequences. The writer may not even be conscious of the messages he/she implies.
I'm going to go with a hell yeah on this one.There is of course a catch...or a few catches.Perhaps moral is too confining. Every story should have meaning and the meaning a reader draws from the story can be positve (a moral), negative or somewhere in between.The second catch is that the writer must illustrate his/her meaning and not tell/preach it. The meaning should be invisible to the naked eye, absent from individual lines or paragraphs but clearly evident in the story itself.
I like books that make me think but I prefer them to be more inconclusive about their "moral". They introduce an issue, examine it from many angles, and then let the reader draw their own conclusions. . . Or at least let the reader think they are drawing their own conclusions.But then, as in most writing issues, it depends on the particular story. Some authors can get away with things that others can't.
As usual, I'm divided. Certain fictional novel I think SHOULD impart a moral - MG, Literary, spiritual/religious - but not necessarily HAVE to. Mostly I read fiction to be entertained, maybe enlightened, but never to be preached at. I enjoy a book of good vs evil for the differing philosophy imparted, but read for nothing more than thought stimulation.I like Loren's point on storytelling as thematic. Character growth rarely happens without some imposition of our own opinions (a premise, I believe this is called, with supporting storyline to back it up) but it does not need to be droned into the reader.......dhole
I'm not at all sure what fiction "should" do. I have ideas about why stories are important to us and why storytelling is an ancient habit that humanity can't shake. I think that life is complex and difficult to understand in a lot of ways. I think that a great deal of experiences don't really make sense until they are culturally situated for us. That sense will of course differ from culture to culture, and I think that stories are more-or-less what we use to contain and perpetuate our culture. Religion and ritual are essentially stories (I went to a Hindu wedding on Sunday and it became obvious to me for the first time that the ceremony is the retelling of a story with cultural and moral expectations clearly drawn for the participants), and in a lot of ways culture and reality itself are stories we tell each other and ourselves. So there's that. Stories are the repositories of reality, to explain the universe and ourselves to ourselves. Even the smallest, lightest entertainment carries some of this freight with it. I think that's what stories do, and why they are important and why we are drawn to them: they make us feel like we belong, or they explain to us why we feel like we don't belong (the narrative of the outsider is probably a lot more recent than the narrative of the one-who-belongs, but maybe I'm wrong). Anyway, I seem to be drifting off topic in a comment to my own post. What drives my own storytelling is a compelling (to me, at least) story. A story finds me, or I find it (I've never been sure who's driving the process, really) and I try to tell that story, being as honest as I can. A byproduct of that honesty is, I think and hope, that I will comment upon or simply point out things that I believe to be true about life, the universe and everything. I don't try to craft a story that lets me talk about any particular truths; I do try to ask myself what truths seem to have to do with the story I'm writing. If that makes any sense. Anyway, I am far less interested in judging things as "right" or "wrong" (though, as Loren points out, it is inevitable that I will) as I am in simply pointing to things and saying, "I think life is like this." But mostly I'm trying to say, "This is an interesting story that seems to be important in some way." I don't even have to know why it's important. If it resonates with me and I want to tell someone else, that's good enough. So in my world, the Paddington Bear stories (for example) are just as important culturally as the Quran or the Bible or the DaVinci Code or whatever. Well, "A Bear Called Paddington" is probably more important than "The DaVinci Code."Anyway, I've enjoyed some didactic or moralistic fiction. I think Flannery O'Connor is trying hard to teach lessons, and I don't mind at all. But I think her fiction "works" even if you don't understand her intended lesson, because I think writers put all sorts of unintended messages in their work, too. Those latter messages might be more important cultural artifacts than the intended messages. Maybe.
Davin:Offering a reader a different perspective doesn't mean you'll change their mind.I think that goes for children also. If you don't allow them to read about other's values - or expose them in other areas - then they become rigid in their thinking. Not able to accept others because of their different values or ways of doing things.Well, maybe thats not an appropriate discussion here.I do see where you're coming from though; and I have to agree that parents - or other concerned family members - are ultimately responsible to the values and entertainment they deem appropriate for their children. A child needs to have the maturity/ability to make informed decisions before broadening their horizons too much.........dhole
Donna, that's fair. I would be happy if I knew my nephew was getting a balance of views.
Scott! I went to a Hindu wedding this weekend too! It was cool to see. Did you have the kicking of the rice? That was my favorite part. When I get married I will have to include the kicking of something.
Scott, I know that I don't see the "morals" in my stories until after I've written them and people point things out (all those unintended messages). Sometimes it makes me feel intelligent. Sometimes not. I think I'd like to go to a Hindu wedding. Davin, I'd better be invited. :)
I think a work of fiction must tell a truth, but not necessarily a moral truth. Sometimes, it's better to make observations than judgements.
Apart from what the author personally wants to get out of it, I think the important questions are who is the intended audience and what is their intention in reading one's work? It's akin to market segmentation in ordinary business practices. In this case, some readers may be looking for a moral in a story. Others may run from one as fast as they can.
Davin: There are a bunch of different Hindu wedding ceremonies. No rice was kicked at the one I attended, darn it. And the groom wasn't able to get a horse, so he arrived in the back seat of his shiny new convertable Ford Mustang.Michelle: It always fascinates me, the idea that I'm revealing myself in my writing even if I don't see it.
In reading, I prefer not to be preached at. I don't mind a "message" if that's the sort of fiction it is, but I want it to be organic to the plot, not overtly "in your face". As a writer - well, I write romance novels. I'm sure they would offend some people on all sides of the moral dilemma, depending on the day and chapter (including my own mother), but the whole point of them is to entertain, not to make any kind of moral statement. I certainly don't feel obligated to hold them to any specific moral path...and would be quite annoyed if someone thought I should.
I was hoping we'd hear more from YA authors, because YA seems to me to be often about the consequences of selfishness, and YA books seem to often have didactic purposes driving the stories. Maybe I'm wrong?
I don't think it should teach a moral lesson, as in preach morals, but if there is a moral lesson lurking in it somewhere, that's fine.
Forcing a moral seems like a sure-fire route to bludgeoning your story. But it is something I think about, and would like to achieve. I think a moral will surface explicitly or implicit regardless, due to the world you create and the action you have your characters undertake.
Forcing a moral sounds to me like a sure fire way to turn people off by being preachy. I usually find that morals work their way into the story through the choices characters make, but that should be an effect, NOT a cause.
Oops--didn't mean to channel "Creative Larceny". Completely accidental. ^_^;;;;;
Scott, I'm also drifting off topic in response to your comments on reality and stories: At a workshop, author Nancy Kress told us, "Fiction is not reality. Fiction is a *structuring* of reality to make a point." I've always liked that quote, and think it ties in nicely with your ideas.
Alex: I like that quote from Ms. Kress. Hey, when's your pub date?
Scott: I've read a lot of "how-to" writing books, and Nancy Kress's are consistently the ones I've found most useful.The pub date for the novel is September 15, according to amazon. Pre-orders available now! Hint, hint.
Mizmak (Alex): Do you have a site or anything? I'm interested as to what book you're discussing here. :)
Michelle: Mizmak is Alexandra MacKenzie, whose book "Immortal Quest" is now available for pre-order on Amazon and other fine sites. Soon to be on shelves at bookstores everywhere! Look on our very own "Publications" page!
Aha! I didn't make that connection, thanks. :)
Not any more or less than life itself teaches us moral lessons. Great writing is a mirror held up to a fictional life.
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