Monday, October 1, 2012

Birthday Month Kickoff: Welcome back Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D., "The Moral Premise Guy"!

Myra: Stan, we’re delighted to welcome you back to Seekerville, and we can't wait to learn more about The Moral Premise! We know you have a LOT to share with us today. Afterward, we'd also love to get to know you better and learn how the idea behind The Moral Premise came about. 

Stan: Thanks again for welcoming me to your village. It was two years ago since my last visit. Where's the chocolate barn? Did they tear it down? All I can find is a big sinkhole with Willy Wonka chained at the bottom.

I enjoyed presenting at the ACFW Conference in St. Louis last year, and my wife, Pam, and I loved meeting many of you.

Myra: Your Early Bird session was definitely the highlight of the St. Louis conference for me! As for the chocolate barn, we found it much more cost effective to fire Willy and develop our own brand. So, what do you have in store for us today, Stan?

Stan: This blog has three parts. (1) Answers to your questions about the moral premise; (2) An interview with Tamera Alexander (whom I've coached) about how she uses the moral premise and why; and (3) a little bit about my background and how all this moral premise stuff got started.

Myra: Sounds great! For those who haven’t read your book or who missed your previous visit with us, can you describe briefly what “Moral Premise” is and how it relates to fiction and screenwriting?

Stan: The Moral Premise is a story structure concept that in its generic form has been acknowledged by nearly every story guru and author since the invention of the novel by Henry Fielding when he wrote Joseph Andrews in 1742. But it can be found in the works of Homer, the Bible, and Aesop. In fact, it is impossible for stories to connect with an audience without a true and consistently applied moral premise.

Luckily, the Moral Premise of a story can be stated in a simple single statement that describes the psychological and physical motivations and arcs of all the characters. It goes like this:

A psychological vice (a value) leads to a discrete physical action that results in a negative physical consequence. But,...
A psychological virtue (the opposing value) leads to a discrete physical action that results in a positive physical consequence.
or, put simply.
Bad motivations lead to bad stuff; but
Good motivations lead to good stuff.
That seems so simple, until you realize that the whole story must be about the conflict of that one set of values (the vice and its opposing virtue), which is metaphorically illustrated in a dozen or more ways in the individual and unique lives of your characters.

To reemphasize, every character (whether it be human, animal or a town) must struggle with the same conflict of (moral) values, but in different ways in the different aspects of their lives. And each character's inner moral struggle is metaphored in their physical world and actions. You might say one's worldview creates one's world. The result is the banishment of writer's block, a final story that cannot unravel, and a visceral connection with audiences. One thing the Moral Premise does not solve, however, is the disciplined, hard work of writing. 

There's also a good explanation of this in the Seekerville October 15, 2010, post

Myra: Wow, it may sound complicated on the surface, but the basic concept is really so simple--and powerful. If you could name one movie and/or one novel that best exemplifies the effective incorporation of Moral Premise, what would it be, and how would you verbalize the MP of this book/movie?

Stan: All successful movies and books have true and consistently applied moral premises, whether or not the writers or directors know it. Of course, if I'm right, knowing it can improve your changes at success. Although I'm quick to point out that a good moral premise is no guarantee of success. There is a lot more to a good story.

Since preparing the ACFW presentation for the St. Louis event I still lean favorably to the book and movie titled Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts. The long form of the moral premise statement can be stated this way:

Relying on fate (luck, determinism) 
leads to loss of hope (homelessness) but
Relying on self-determination (free-will, bleaching) 
leads to hope (and home).
Myra: Perfect. I definitely had to watch that movie again as a result of your workshop explanation. And now, some questions from our Seekervillagers.

Piper asks: Novels used to be seen as a way to instruct people on how to behave: Is the purpose of the Moral Premise to instruct about the disadvantages of misbehavior?

Stan: Piper, the purpose of the moral premise is to guide (or instruct) writers on how to write a novel that will connect with their audience. Any story that connects with its audience will implicitly instruct them how to behave in accordance with natural law, and thus find an increased level of happiness. Now, there are some critical nuances and assumptions in that statement. The most critical is what I mean by "connect," —that the reader or audience will recognize the true and consistent portrayal of natural law at work in the story. If that is true, then the story (assuming all else is done with deft craft) will instruct people how to live a happier life.

Janet K. wants to know how you find the moral premise of your book. Can there be more than one moral premise?

Stan: Second question, first. There can be more than one moral premise in a successful story. But each is related to the others, or you might say they are nested, or exist along the same Nicomachean Ethics Scale. Oh boy, there's a term. (See A novel or movie will not explore divergent moral premises, unless it's epic in length with clear divisions, such as Francine Rivers' "Mark of the Lion" series.

The answer to Janet's first question is more important. A book may or may not have a moral premise. Or, if a moral premise does exist it may (a) not be true, or (b) it may not be consistently applied to each character. Falsehood and inconsistency are the harbingers of failure.

If a book does have a true and consistently applied moral premise (measured by financial success or connected eyeballs), then here's what I'd do to discover it. You can use this same process beforehand to determine IF your story has a true and consistently applied moral premise.

1. Examine each character's inner moral arc, and their external physical arc. Diagram what you see in terms of motivational values, actions and consequences. How do the characters' motivations change from story beginning to story end? The most important character to do this with, of course, is the protagonist.

2. Look for an incident near the center of the story where the protagonist recognizes that he or she has been using the wrong motivation to achieve his or her goal. Is there such a scene? Do they decide to change -- for the good or the bad? In all stories the protagonist is imperfect and needs a solution to a problem, or needs to attain a physical goal. To attain that goal the character needs to change. In a redemptive story the change is for the better. In a tragedy the change is for the worse. This moment of realization and motivational change is the character's Moment of Grace (MOG). All main characters will have a MOG. Does your story? The protagonist's MOG will be near the middle of the overall story; but the other character's MOG could be anywhere the story dynamics demand. Remember, as in real life, all characters change, but no character changes quickly or abruptly.

3. Diagram, chart, or table what a character valued before their MOG, and what they value after their MOG. These two values need to be polar opposites. In a properly structured story you'll notice a pattern developing between all the characters. They will all be struggling with the same thing in different ways. That is how you reinforce the underlying meaning of your story without ever having to say what it is. Audiences and readers like to figure things out. Don't tell them, show them. The many story threads will all weave together to form a single blanketed theme scented with spices.

Amber’s question: I want to have a moral premise in every book I write, but I struggle with having my moral premise too strong. How do you work your moral premise into the story without giving the reader the “hit over the head with a Bible” feeling?

Stan: Simple: Never state the moral premise directly. Never quote a Bible verse. Really. I think the best Christian fiction is morally not fiction at all. It is true. And if it is true, then that truth will be self-evident in the action that your characters take. Note that throughout the Bible it's not what is said or what is thought that proves your faith and gets you to heaven. It is what is done, it is what action you take, it is your works that confirm one's faith (Mt. 7:24ff, James 2:14ff.). The same is true of your characters. It matters not what they turn over in their mind, it matters not how much they read Bible verses to each other. What matters is what they do. How do they act? What are their works? It's not that works save them, but without the works there is clearly no faith. Faith and works, thoughts and action—two sides of the same coin.

Let me get down out of my pulpit. You can articulate the MP, but do so indirectly. That is, don't say much. For instance, sometimes at the end of the movie, after all the action, heartache and tragedy, as the hero lies in a pool of his own blood, there will be enough energy left to look up into his friend's eyes and whisper, "It was the drink, weren't it Maddy? Here I am a-dying and, damn if I ain't got more confidence now than all those times a toasting m'buddies with brew. Don't make much sense."  But never would you say, "Burt, see I told ya once I told you a thousand times. Alcohol leads to destruction; but sobriety leads to success."  BLEEP!

Let your actions speak louder than your words. See how Scripture is used in Where the Heart Is.  It’s funny, somewhat irreverent, by characters who are not theologians by any means—"O God, forgive us the fornication that occurred right here on this table upon which we are about to eat. Amen."
In short, SHOW, don't tell. Whenever you start quoting Scripture you're telling. Just SHOW the consequence and let the reader figure it out. 

From Vince: Edgar Allen Poe wrote this: “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” Could you relate this idea to the more encompassing idea expressed by the Moral Premise?

Stan: Actually, Vince, I think you just did it. About the only thing I might add is that the traditional definition of "theme" is one-half of the moral premise. A theme will point the value-action-consequence in one direction only. The moral premise points in both directions.

Rose would like to know if you have a worksheet that ties all this together that writers can use as a guideline to make sure we don't leave anything out.
Stan: Rose, are you asking for a crib sheet so you can cheat? Go to The Moral Premise website and click on the "Writing Aids" tab. There are two versions of Mugs, a Story Diamond worksheet, and a Bookmark, all designed to provide some short-cut reminders. But unless you have a practical understanding of how to apply the moral premise, these won't be much help. Read the book.

Julie S. has three questions for you:

1. Has there been a shift in what resonates with readers, as far as applying the MP, since you last visited Seekerville?

Stan: When I speak of reader resonance I refer to natural law. Unlike fads or trends, natural law doesn't change. So, intrinsic to a proper understanding of the moral premise is that what resonates with readers will not change over venues, eras, or genres. It's all about natural law truth of the human condition. No shifting, except in the eyes of the bad guy.

2. What future trends do you see in terms of themes and genre? Folks seem to want the Amish books for their “back in time” beliefs and strict code of conduct. What is next?

Stan: Again, these "trends" don't intrigue me, nor do I track them. Hollywood seems to have a fancy for such trends because investors are typically paranoid, looking for the easy connection. But I believe ANY story, well told, will do good. What it takes is a fresh perspective or hook, and deft craft. That is why genre stories always sell. The underdog sports team is always a winner. Twilight is another good example. It's not literature, but it sells. And the hook was different enough to intrigue. BTW: Stephen King wrote (evidently... could be Internet legend) that "Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." So, a huge difference. But they are both genre and I suspect that Rowling and Meyer ignored the trends.

3. What are the three most important things to remember as we work on our WIPs, in terms of MP?

Stan: 1. Underlying conflict of (opposing) values must motivate all the actions of all the characters.

2. In the story's timeline there must be a Moment of Grace where each character realizes that things can go different if they change their values.

3. The physical story, in most every major respect, should be a metaphor (subtext) for what is really going on at the moral level.

There are more; see the bookmark under Writer's Aids, but these are the most important subsets that support a true and consistent moral premise statement.

Myra: Thanks, Stan. As always, you have taught us well! Anything else you would like to add?

Stan: I'm still waiting on Scotty to fix the transporter so I can share in all that e-food you "guys" write about. 

Stan's Interview with Tamera Alexander

Stan: While we wait for Scotty, I have a treat for you. Not food, although for me the aroma of a melted Hersey's dark chocolate bar in my hand is like caffeine. CN I HV SM MRE! IM FLNG GRT, RLLY.

Over the last year I've been helping a number of ACFW writers structure their novels. I'm always impressed with the bold, intriguing characters and settings y’all come up with. Deep inside those of you who are pantsers, there lurks great stories that you can't quite see for all the fascinating possibilities. 

One such author is Tamera Alexander. I thought you would benefit from hearing what Tamera does with regard to the Moral Premise and how we work together, usually by email and phone. Here's a YouTube post Tamera did for Seekervillagers, and then an interview of sorts that hopefully will be instructive.

Stan: Tamera, you are admittedly a pantser. Yet, your books are rich in research of historical eras and places. What are the broad development steps you take before you begin to write, and where does the moral premise effort fit into your process?

Tamera: First, I research the time period and the location. So much of what I’m writing now in the Southern antebellum mansion stories is real history populated by real people who actually lived. So that definitely shapes the fabric of the stories.

Once I have my characters and basic story in mind (IE: this is a story about an fraudulent artist who finds herself in the home of the richest woman in America, and about a young attorney determined to protect his client’s personal and financial interests at all costs), I begin the writing process by discovering the backgrounds of the male and female protagonist. These are freeform documents (no characterization charts for me, please, those drive me insane). And this stage is for my eyes only. I don’t worry about grammar or structure. I just write. And I write in first person point-of-view, as if seeing the world through the hero and heroine’s eyes. I work to discover their strengths and weaknesses. And what they want more than anything. And why.

Stan: For you, what are the mechanical or functional features of the moral premise that are the most useful to you?

Tamera: The structure of the moral premise: [Vice] leads to [defeat], but [virtue] leads to [success], gives me the tools to see the key elements of my story with x-ray vision, if you will. Remember the character sketches from above? Well, understanding my story’s moral premise enables me to see those threads more clearly. The moral premise also reveals the characters’ true outer and inner motivations and shows me where these need to be tweaked, which saves a ton of rabbit trailing and rewriting.

A phrase I keep by my computer is from p. 21 of Stan’s book, “…good stories are about…the making of a moral (psychological) choice that results in a physical action, and ends in a physical and psychological consequence.” Later in Ch 4, Stan shares, “As writers, we may not always understand the natural laws of storytelling, but we can understand that for every action there will be a reaction…and for every cause there is a natural effect.”

Even though I know far more of my story before writing now than I used to, there are still “ah ha” moments in the first draft where something will bubble up to the surface that “fits so perfectly,” and yet that I hadn’t planned or plotted, per se. Which just goes to show that on a subconscious level, when you have some of the tools of story structure beneath your belt, the moral premise and muse are in cahoots with each other to guide the story. Love that!

Stan: For you, what are the practical writing advantages of using the moral premise?

Tamera: Working with a moral premise keeps me from wandering in the story. It helps me to write tighter. And it makes rewrites far more manageable. And enjoyable! My rewrites for my last novel took 9 days. Nine! That’s unheard of for me. And I actually love the rewrite phase! But instead of deleting rabbit trails and cleaning up extraneous plot threads, this time I was delving deeper into characterization and polishing the metaphorical aspects of the story.

Stan: In the development of your most recent novel, To Whisper Her Name, a Belle Meade Plantation novel, you spent some time with Stan Williams by phone talking about the moral premise and your story. Can you describe the flow and perhaps some specifics of that coaching session so we can see how Stan and the moral premise concept helped you?

Tamera: Before our scheduled call, I sent Stan a document literally entitled “This is what I know about my story so far…” And that’s exactly what it is, all I know about the characters and story (plot) and setting so far.

When we started the call, I told him I wished I knew more, and that I could give him more to work with. He said to just start talking. So I did. And I was amazed at how he was able to see the moral premise so clearly in the “scattered” threads of the story I had so far. Which tells me two things: 1) I still have much to learn in regard to understanding and defining story structure, and 2) I do much of this instinctively in my storytelling. Which is fine, at first blush. But not when I don’t do it consistently, which I don’t. And which you need to do for a strong story.

I’ve already decided that from now on, I’ll start out each novel with a coaching call to Stan to get my moral premise honed and sharpened, and to more clearly define my male and female protagonists’ inner and outer motivations. It’s worth every penny and is paid back to me time and time again as I write.

Stan: What was the result of that effort in your editor's eyes?

Tamera: One of my editor’s exact wording (after they read the first draft of To Whisper Her Name) was, “I have never struggled so much to add value to a manuscript…” Reading that was gratifying. And is not credited solely to me, of course. I credit my writing team (which includes Stan Williams and his Moral Premise) and to what I’ve learned about story structure. Not that I didn’t still have work to do in the rewrite phase. I did. But it wasn’t the major overhauling I’ve done in the past, because there weren’t any “extraneous” threads. All the threads of the story built on one another, as they should once they’re filtered through the moral premise.

Stan: Can you describe your effort to find the moral premise of your story in the second Belmont Mansion book? What happened when you sent your preliminary notes to Stan and asked for advice?

Tamera: In writing Belmont Book 2, I had the key elements of the story (characters, basic plot, and setting), but I was missing the “driving force” behind the characters’ motivations and desires. I’d been writing and struggling, writing and struggling… So, as I’ve done previously in preparation for our phone consultations, I sent Stan the outline for my story––a document literally entitled “This is what I know about my story so far…”

When we spoke the following day, I apologized for not sending him more. But he said (in effect), “Quite the contrary!” He saw so much within the preliminary notes I’d sent him, things I simply didn’t see, UNTIL we defined the moral premise of my story. Then “ah ha” moments started popping up everywhere.

By nature, I’m an instinctive writer (a seat-of-the-pants writer, some might say), but the tools of story structure (and of The Moral Premise) can be learned. They’re definitely enhancing my writing process and my love of story. And storytelling.

Stan: The Coaching package Tamera (and some of the others of you) have taken advantage of is Level 4 under the Coaching Tab at The Moral Premise.
Where did Stan and the Moral Premise come from?

Myra: Stan, that interview with Tamera Alexander was so instructive and eye-opening! Let’s switch gears now and give our tired brains a break. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself, where you grew up, educational background, anything about your family, etc.?

Stan: I grew up in Detroit suburbs among a functional family of devout Evangelicals on a cliff over looking Fundamentalism. My values were formed by our family's deep respect for the Bible, and a legion of missionaries and preachers that were not only house guests but the decedents of ancestors that reached back centuries. Yes, adventures full of high drama, and trunks full of diaries.

If you came to the ACFW workshop last year you heard a little about my early 1900 maternal grandmother who left the woman's suffrage movement to be a missionary in India. An uncle on my father's side was the famous London Missionary Society adventurer-ship builder John Williams who was martyred by Pacifica cannibals on the beach of Erromanga (today, Vanuatu) in 1839 as the Captain and crew from the rail of the brig Camden looked on with horror.

I have 1.5 sisters, no brothers, a few distant cousins, nephews and nieces — Wigs, Tories, Republicans and a few Democrats for spice. My dad ran for Michigan governor on the Prohibition ticket when I was a kid. With my first (and only) wife, Pam, we have three children and nine grandchildren who live near us in S.E. Michigan.

I graduated from Greenville College (Greenville, IL) in 1969 with a B.A. in Physics, after which I worked for McDonnell Douglas in the space industry as an electronic engineer and astronaut trainer (Skylab Crews in Houston). As exciting as that was I longed to be involved in media. When the Skylab project was over I ended up at Ford Motor WHQ in Dearborn, MI, where I worked my way up to become a film and television producer-director. I left Ford in 1981 to start my own production company, Full Circle Communications, which produced hundreds of projects for corporations until 1989 when I had to lay off my 12 employees and joined the ranks of the sometimes employed, but mostly I became an independent producer of media (film, television, and live shows).  I'm still doing that.

Somewhere in all that I earned a M.A. in Interpersonal Communications (Eastern Michigan University, 1980), and later my Ph.D. in Film Studies and Narrative Theory (Wayne State University, 1998).

At the same time I was finishing my dissertation (that involved a study of fallacious logic in narrative story structures), I became disillusioned with Evangelical Christianity that claimed unity in the doctrinal essentials, but disagreed about a great many essential Christian doctrines, e.g. salvation and baptism. Long story, short, I became Roman Catholic in 1998 and Pam followed 9 months later. It was like coming home. (WIP, 26 chapters so far).

A short time after that, in an effort to produce a documentary about Catholicism, a friend and client convinced me to start a distribution company that we call Nineveh's Crossing (http://www.ninevehscrossing). It's a Catholic media distribution company that releases television series to networks, and sells DVDs, CDs and books.

I have taught filmmaking and screenwriting as an adjunct at a couple universities and a trade school, and I spent two years teaching logic as part of a home school enrichment program. That segued into a Story Symposium workshop that I led over two years with a small group of teens (3 hours, once a month). In June I took the class to the movie set of AFTER EARTH where my students met Will and Jaden Smith and his team. Then, in August we finished shooting a film (Bad Luck Bella) that one of the students wrote and directed.

I spend some time each year in Hollywood lecturing, meeting with clients and helping with events. Most of my "Hollywood" time, however, is spent in Michigan consulting by phone and the Internet, some with novelists, like you. Here's a link to my Biola Media Conference interview of TV writer Monica Macer, and avant-garde rocker and film producer, Steve Taylor.

Myra: Fascinating, Stan! What’s your favorite way to spend vacation time?

Stan: Work. There's too much to do to take long vacations. The world is a mess and needs help. I am willing to take an evening and go sailing. Sometimes after a big project I'll sleep and read for a couple days. We have a 41' ketch that we sail on the Great Lakes, although this summer and part of next it's out of the water in repairs. Pictures of one trip to the Upper Great Lakes here.

Myra: Do you have any favorite books or movies?

Stan: Anything well done and engaging. I have no real favorites, except maybe Stanley Kubrick's and Arthur C. Clark's 2001: A SPACE ODYESSY (released in 1969 the special effects surpass anything shot today). I've seen it 14 times. Book other than Bible? Perhaps Emmanuel Velikovshy's speculative-science Worlds In Collision that co-joins cosmology and Biblical events.

Myra: Your website bio mentions a cat and “a menagerie of yard mammals.” What exactly are we talking about here? The typical squirrels, rabbits, and deer, or something more exotic?

Stan: We live in an older subdivision on the outskirts of Metro Detroit just before you get to horse ranches and farms. It's an older ranch on 1.2 acres with trees and a creek that attacks deer, fox, squirrels, muskrats, ground hogs, chipmunks and the occasional lost teenager on his or her way home from school or a party.

Myra: Hmmm, that creek sounds intriguing! What led you to a career in the filmmaking industry?

Stan: I think film and media are somehow in the genetics of the family. A deceased uncle, Burton Emerson Williams, was the founder of the National Press Photographers Association and was a famous White House photographer most of his life. The Burt Williams Award is still given out to news photographers who have completed at least 40 years of service.

Another of my dad's brothers owned the first motion picture film laboratory in Florida. At an early age, perhaps 8, I started experimenting with trick photograph using two (120mm) pinhole cameras. I'd shoot multiple exposures of my sister doing baton tricks around the yard, making it look like she was one of quintuplets.

Yet, I never pursued film or media until college when I became enamored with radio production. I was the production manager at WGRN for several years during college, had my own radio show, et al. When I got a job I took up photography as a sideline. Love it. Still do.

Myra: Was there an “aha” moment when the ideas behind the Moral Premise began to take shape in your mind?

Stan: It was a slow gestation process that began while reading for my doctoral research (and ended with a prescription for stronger eyeglasses). After several years of reading about stories, screenplays and box office receipts, I realized there was a mystery about why some movies were popular and others were not. The theories presented at the time were how MPAA ratings, A-list stars and directors, marketing dollars, and national temperaments all had to be just right for a movie to score big. But, in fact, you could have the best of all those factors and still bomb at the box office. Famed screenwriter William Goldman writes in the introduction of his famous book Adventures in the Screen Trade that when it comes to what makes up a successful movie, "Nobody (sic) knows anything." Well, I had been to Hollywood and seen the pictures in the magazines, and I knew Goldman was wrong. There was too much money being made in Hollywood, and the people I had met were pretty smart. Someone had to know something. I decided that nobody knows what it is that they know but deep down they know it well.

So, I set out to try to discover what it was. Obviously I was predisposed to issues of morality because of my Christian upbringing. The resulting dissertation, titled "Narrative Argument Validity and Film Popularity," uncovered what I thought were key elements of a film's ability to connect with audiences. I soon realized that these same moral elements affect any story's connection to any story audience, whether fictional novels or the personages that attract the litter we call paparazzi.

I finished the dissertation in 1998, and tried to get some of the Hollywood story gurus to take my research and make a course out of it. There was no money in it for me, but I was convinced my research uncovered what had been known since the beginning of storytelling, but all the writers were calling it something different. Finally in 2004 I began to write the book myself. The Moral Premise and my dissertation are not the same, except that the dissertation research formed the basis for the book. I sent the finished manuscript (after a query) to my favorite movie publisher, Michael Wiese Productions. Two days later I got an email from Michael saying they'd love to publish it. They had only two small things they wanted to change. It was my writing partner, Bill Wiitala, who suggested I write Chapter 4 that required I restructure a few things overall.  The book came out in 2006.

Stan: Okay, folks, that's it for this edition of The Moral Premise visits Seekerville. I'll visit the com box throughout the day. Blessings. Stan
Myra: Stan, you never fail to twist our brains into new avenues of creative thought! Thank you so much for your amazing insights into the Moral Premise and for sharing so personally about yourself.

Visit with Stan in the comment section today to enter the drawing for a copy of Stan’s breakthrough book, The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success.

Comment for a chance to win! Details here.


  1. Wow! Lots of information. I'm definitely a sotp, which drives me crazy, but I can't seem to do it any other way. I think you cleared up some things in my head. Thanks.

  2. Nicomachean Ethics Scale...what a mouth full! I definitely learned some things about writing here that I NEVER would have thought off! I have a healthier respect for you writers now! As a reader however I definitely liked the bit about show, don't tell as far as Scripture goes in fiction. I like to see characters living it rather than reading it. :-)

  3. Don't put me in the hat, I already have it and read it. Working on applying it right now as I'm plotting a new book.

    And mighty tempted to have you tell me what my MP is succinctly with those conference calls. :) But I always know what it is, but getting it just right in that tiny MP line of virtue/vice is tough, I think, when you're the writer and so close to it.

  4. Hi Stan:

    We graduated from college in the same year.

    I would think that if the MP followed natural law, then it should be found in biographies of famous people whose authors connect with their readers. Have you considered MPs for real people’s lives? Do you have a personal MP? PMP?

    If you are going to use the Nicomachean Ethics Scale would it be okay to have two different characters approach the viture from opposite ends of the spectrum? That is, one person gets to courage by coming down from foolhardy recklessness while the other moves up from paralyzing fear (cowardice). I like the idea of coming from both sides and from different initial points along the scale. This provides much more versatility. I just thought of this as a kind of “Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony” moment.

    BTW: I liked Emmanuel Velikovshy better than Erich von Daniken. I’m just going to have to attend one of your workshops. I think we might resonate. : )


    P.S. I have your book and have read it several times. I think I still need to read it again.

  5. I'm stunned. And Welcome Back Dr. Stan.

    This is a day's workshop with no early bird fee.

    Thank you to Tamera as well.

  6. Love the 'no early bird fee', for this 'workshop'. Wow.

    I am an obsessive plotter and yet the characters still manage to surprise me. With the moral premise I find it will often change from its first version to a stronger version after completion of the ms. Not surprising., and it really helps on the editing.

    Have any of you noticed that?

    And I'm hungry.

  7. Stan, I love you. Seriously. You take an often critically overlooked basic and turn it into an internal thread that I understand.

    This is huge to me because most writers' workshops/advice/classes put me to sleep... or make me itch for a coffee carafe at my fingertips.

    I'm with Tamera, stepping outside the circle of the story and looking in (which is I think what happens when you talk to her) is a great change of perspective. Natasha did the same thing with me with my upcoming series, and it was amazing how clearly I saw things in a more linear fashion.

    Which then makes it easier to write! I'm so glad you're here, and I've fixed up the chocolate store so youse have all you need! Willy's more than a LITTLE scary, so we're using Webb's Chocolates from Chautauqua Lake in Western New York. So stinkin' good!!!!

    Stan, thank you so much. I'm printing this so I have it at my right hand. Right next to God... oops, and my husband!!! :)

    Bless you!


  8. Oh, Deb, yes! What starts out as a simple thread in the first draft turns into the core as I think the characters through in my first writing.

    It's amazing what things come to me at choir practice, at Mass, when I'm rocking a baby and my head is trying to understand why Marty was so driven to work that he didn't see the sands of the hourglass until it was too late.

    Regret is such a great motivator, but leaves a wide swath of brokenness.

  9. I am just going to call the caterers. No one wants to be cooking, baking or messing around in the kitchen. Even Ruthy.

    I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look into Dr. Williams' life. What a great way to start off Birthday Month.

  10. Good morning.
    I started reading at 6.25 it's 6.52 as I am writing this.

    WOW. Seriously. (And did I mention that my brain is slightly hurting right now? *grin*)

    GREAT. Absolutely a must for every author! =)

    Thank you for sharing!

    *Waving to Tamera Alexander! So nice to see you here, Tam! =)*

  11. Hi Vince,

    I've always enjoyed your comments. Yes, we'll have to have lunch sometime. Where do you live?

    To answer your questions...

    A. RE: The MP and Real People stories. Indeed, I have had significant experience with the MP of real people in motion picture biography scripts. These are known as biopics (biography pictures). As a genre they are some of the worse performing movies at the box office. The reason (from my analysis) is that the producer/writers want to stay absolutely true to the ENTIRE life of the personage, and thus they resist the audience's need to be told a story that has a structural integrity capable of capturing the imagination and that entertains. This happens mostly when, from the audience's perspective, there is no single, driving, physical goal that the protagonist needs to achieve. (The story just reiterats the major events in the person's life, which are usually not connected in a narrative or dramatic sense. The solution, if you want to connect with people beyond the personages fan club, is to take ONE part of their life (e.g. their courtship with a future spouse) and STRUCTURE it for a general "story" audience's sake, and then emphasize the psychological truth or value the personage struggled with at that point in their overall narrative. Two examples suffice to explain: Will Smith's ALI was a box office failure because it covered the man's entire life and did not have a narrative focus that a single MP could explain. The movie honored Ali, and it was popular with Ali's and Will's fans, but the popularity ended there. It failed to connect with a wide, general audience. THE KING'S SPEECH, on the other hand, did not try to give us a whole overview of King George's life, but dealt with his fear of speaking in public and taking responsibility for the country... something the movie at least, capitalized on for the sake of a physical goal. Notice that the title of the movie articulates the physical goal. Muhammad Ali is well known in the U.S. and King George is barely known. Yet, THE KING'S SPEECH doubled the box office of ALI.

    B. The MP for my life could be stated like this, although (disclaimer) it's not a good one around which to build a story for its lack of inferring a particular physical goal: "Ignore Natural Law out of selfish desire and have a nervous breakdown; Embrace Natural Law out of selfless work and live in confident joy." BTW: My life's mission is this: "Discover and promote divine truth to those within my sphere of influence."

    C. Re: Nicomachean Ethics and having two characters approach the virtue from opposite ends. BINGO! It works every time, and it the principle reason for structuring a story around the Nicomachean scale. Such a structure gives wonderful, deep, resonating characters. It is used in road stories and romantic comedies a lot. And your example is on the money.

    D. I think Erich von Daniken is nuts; His embrace of extraterrestrial influences on human culture is an adolescent way to sidestep God. Can't be done, but he tries. Velikovsky, however, embraces God, and simply tries to show how miracles do not break the natural laws of the universe. Why should God break his own laws? Miracles (our term) are simply events that we cannot explain for lack of knowledge about ALL reality. Over on my Catholic blog I once wrote about miracles and atheist cowards: "All such 'miracles' do violate our current understanding of Newtonian three-dimensions of space and time, but they obviously don't need to violate the laws of the universe when completely understood." Here's the link:

  12. Here - I'll save the rest of you the trouble:

    after you get through the synopses part of that wikipedia entry, Vince and Stan's discussion starts to come a blt clearer for the rest of us who never took philosophy. It also explains why a lunch meeting between them would go way over my head.

  13. Deb,
    I have four posts on Nicomachean Ethics written in the context of story:

  14. Good morning, Seekerville, and welcome to Stan! So glad to see we're off to such a marvelous discussion already this morning!

    Caterers, yes--good idea, Debra! I see the van pulling up now. Complete with coffee and juice bar, Belgian waffle maker, steaming pots of Irish oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and brown sugar on the side. Sausage and honey-cured ham, too. Dig in!

  15. Wow, what a great post for a rainy Monday.

    Such a relief to hear from someone who is not into trends. I think we get in trouble when we focus on "what will sell" rather than what touches the heart and soul.

    I have that Stephen King quote already printed out. Now to print out the entire post!

    So happy, Seekerville, to be part of a wonderful month of celebration.

    Peace, Julie

  16. Whew, this post bears rereading numerous times so I can absorb more of the information. I will certainly be investigating and learning more!

  17. Good morning, Stan, and welcome back to Seekerville! I devoured "The Moral Premise" several years ago as it's a book highly recommended by my agent! Thank you again for a very meaty post!

  18. My head hurts now ;) [mostly because the laptop most likely has died a sudden and miserable death].

    It's so much to try to wrap my head around. So simple but so complex at the same time.

    I'd love a chance to win!!

    [I'm hoping my friend Hannah will be stopping by! She's just starting out writing but a sweet gal from my church - we talked plots while rockin' babies yesterday - be nice Ruthy!]

  19. Hi Dr. Stan.
    I am teaching a class on the Moral Premise at my local RWA group in Omaha on November 9th.
    I'm not a great teacher.
    If I make no sense, I'm afraid I'm going to have to blame you.
    Sorry, that's just the kind of coward I am.
    Thanks so much for being on and if you've got any pointers (besides all I'm getting from today's post) for explaining the basics of The Moral Premise, you could please type them into the comment box.

  20. Type them into the comment box so I can copy and paste them into 'my' speech, I mean.

  21. Wow! This post is pure gold. I'm going to have to read through it a few more times to grasp everything you shared, Stan. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

    I appreciate your suggestion to go through and look at my protagonist's internal journey and external journey to determine my MP.

    Also loved the interview with Tamera Alexander. Thanks again!

  22. Debra, I too, am a plotter. My characters change and surprise me too. When I did my re-write, I discovered a different theme than what I thought mine would be, which also changed my MP some. ;) I love this writing life.

  23. Mary C and all:

    If any of you teach or lecture and would like to use slides from my workshops, here is a link to a blog that has a link my ACFW 2011 slides. I work in Apple's KEYNOTE apllication, and there's not a good translation to Microsoft's PowerPoint, thus the PDF.

    Mary, the best advice is to be yourself. And, knowing you, you'll be funny. I'll generally admit when a slide comes up that I may not know what it's about until after I stare at it for a minute or two. That's where the chocolate comes in—-the chocolate caffeine keeps the audience awake while your brain takes a nap.

  24. LOL, Stan, don't confuse Mary with Apple/Mac references!!!!

  25. Thanks for coming back to Seekerville, Stan! I've read (devoured) the post from your last visit, and I have your book in my Amazon cart.

    I love the information you have on your website. It was just enough to help me understand the process (and whet my appetite), so I could start applying the basic ideas to my last plotting spree.

    And now I'll have to wrap my head around the Nicomachean Ethics scale. I love this job!

    Thanks again for your visit and the time you spent on your workshop - um, post! I'll be reading it over and over.

  26. Welcome back to Seekerville, Stan! Thanks for this excellent post. And for shining your light.

    I now use moral premise to write my stories, but the book I wrote that I feel has the strongest moral premise was written before I knew anything about mp. Truth is, I'm not solid with mp. The reason I find Tamara's journey to understand story structure and moral premise encouraging.


  27. (Vince and Stan frighten me< Just a little.)

  28. No kidding, Tina! Imagine those two in the same room together!

  29. So this begs the question.

    Isn't it time to meet the needs of the visual learner with a DVD? Or a coloring book at very least??

  30. Wow. Okay - this is one of those posts I'm going to have to read a few times to get the most out of it. Amazing!

    I love the aspect that the MP doesn't change because it follows natural law. This is SUCH a biblical statement, btw. At the core of humans, I believe we're still very much the same as we've been for a long time.

    Fabulous post!

  31. Stan, thank you for kicking off the Seekerville Celebration with such a bang!

    Tina, how about a paint by numbers application?

  32. I tried paint by numbers on the book which I own. But it didn't help.

    Lots of yellow marker used.

  33. Great discussion, you guys. And thanks, Seekerville and Stan!

    I grateful for Stan Williams' giftedness at story structure, and that he's so willing and generous to share it with us writers.

    A couple of you have written privately asking which books I've written following the MP. Those would be: A LASTING IMPRESSION, a Belmont Mansion novel. And TO WHISPER HER NAME, a Belle Meade Plantation novel that releases on October 23.

    I HIGHLY recommend the coaching packages Stan offers. His insight into story has helped me tremendously!

  34. Ohh man is this good! And I'm REALLY wanting the book. So much to learn.

    Thanks, Stan, for coming by. This post is totally a keeper.

  35. Carol and Lizzie, my head was definitely spinning. And I read this post right before I went off to dream land, and dream I did. Moral Premise. Everything and nothing made sense. I analyzed each person and animal's (yes, there was an animal a beautiful brindled Great Dane to be exact)motivation behind their actions. Crazy, I tell you. All I wanted to do was dream about my latest characters.

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. There is so much meat to this post I don't even know where to start to comment.

    This is a lesson to print out and read a few times.

    Thank you to Stan and Tamera!


  38. The hardest part for me to grasp about The Moral Premise is having the main characters wrestling with the same vice.

    For example, my hero's vice is revenge, the heroine's is doing what she feels she has to in order to save someone she loves from a disastrous future(not searching for God's will). I guess I could say they both need to trust God and realize he is in control.

    Even if this is so, they would not be coming from opposite directions of the Ethics Scale.

    That is way too deep for a Monday morning. I'll have to chew on this all week (month).

  39. Wow! I feel like we are all students at Oxford or something! Creative Writing 101!

    I have Stan's book and probably don't use it to its full advantage, but I DO try and figure out the basic MP for my characters now.

    LOVED Tamera's little video and interview! If she can learn something, then there's hope for all of us! Woo-hoo!

    Happy Anniversary Seekerville. Great way to kick it off!


  40. LOL Tamera's video and her "blame this man" was hilarious!

    I think the moral premise is fascinating and I think he's right on.

    This post is sooo detailed! I think I didn't absorb some info but get the drift. I'll have to come back and revisit this post to hopefully soak up more info. Thanks for the great interviews!

  41. Stan, welcome back! We're so glad to have you again today. I'm a big believer is The Moral Premise! I use it with each book and have found it has helped keep my writing from becoming episodic.

    So thank you for writing this excellent book! Thanks also to Tammy for sharing as well!

  42. Good day Seekerville!

    Thank you Dr. Williams for answering my question. I appreciate the information and will print this out. I need all the help I can use to prevent my book from being episodic! Thanks again,


  43. Donna,

    Let me see if I can help you.

    You wrote:

    "For example, my hero's vise is revenge, the heroine's is doing what she feels she has to in order to save someone she loves from a disastrous future (not searching for God's will). I guess I could say they both need to trust God and realize he is in control.

    Even if this is so, they would not be coming from opposite directions of the Ethics Scale."

    If the hero's vice is "revenge" then I assume he's out to "get even" with someone who has wronged him. (Let's assume that there was an offense or wrong that precipitated the revenge and/or bitterness. And I'll assume that the revenge is NOT aimed at the heroine.) Let's anchor that.

    Now, if the heroine is trying to save the hero from the consequences of his revenge, then you probably need to saddle her with a vice, which would be something at the extreme opposite of "revenge" -- remember that every virtue taken to an extreme is a vice. But for a moment, let's only go half-way to that opposite vice, and try to land on a virtue in the middle of the Nicomachean scale. That middle virtue might be "forgiveness" with the qualifications of "keeping up one's guard against further offense" and "seeking justice" for the inflicted wrong. Remember that in its virtuous state "forgiveness" is not pretending that an offense never occurred, or that the offense was virtuous. And forgiveness also does not turn a blind eye to justice. (If you feel like digging into this, there's a chart that describes some of this in my explanation of the moral premise in the movie THE KITE RUNNER. (

    To be CONT.

  44. Cont. from earlier comment.

    So, now we have at one extreme the vice of revenge (and perhaps bitterness), in the middle we have a virtue of forgiveness (with an embrace of justice that needs to be satisfied), and at the far end... the virtue taken to extreme... would be the vice "tolerance of evil" (or forgiveness with no requirement for justice, or for being on guard to avoid the consequences of an offense in the future).

    Christ instructed us to turn the other cheek, and to be generous (give someone a second coat, or go the extra mile). But Christ did not suggest that justice should be ignored when a moral wrong has been committed, nor did he suggest that you should not defend yourself, your family, or your neighbor. We will all be judged, although we are forgiven. And yes, there is a consequence for our sin here on earth and beyond, even thought we are forgiven. (If you're Catholic you'll understand this a bit easier.)

    So, you might start out with your heroine being "tolerant of evil" under the guise that she is just being forgiving or that she is being "tolerant" and politically correct, and yet she fails to recognize the requirement under natural law for justice and future protection against unjust attacks.

    Now, one more comment about using "God's will" as a virtue or "not seeking God's will" as a vice. My suggestion is to avoid such phrasing because what "is" or "is not" God's will not be universally understood without a heavy dose of subjective reality - i.e. prejudiced opinion laced with Christian jargon. Indeed tragedy may not seem to be God's will, but then recall that there is the virtuous benefit of a martyr's death (even Christ's death) to bring good into the world. And there is the importance of suffering required to build up our virtue (c.f. James 1). God's will, in narrative, and in everyone's daily life, is not always a clearly stated billboard that blocks our driveway.

    Of course, there is something that is pretty clear about God's will, and that's his "moral will"...that is, following his moral law (whether you use the O.T.'s 10 Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount. But recognize that God's moral will can be described in terms of UNIVERSAL MORAL VALUES, which do not require you to quote Scripture to explain it to your audience. That is, you don't need to talk about God's will or quote Scripture to explain that creating scandal, disrespect, hate, lust, greed are wrong. People get that without explicitly mentioning God. It's called Natural Law. And it's written on everyone's heart.

  45. I wasn't blessed enough to go to the conference and learn from you in person. I'd love the opportunity to learn this way.


  46. Thanks for stopping by Tamera.

    This post really is starting to clear some of the fog!!

  47. Now I'm off to read about the Nicomachean Ethics scale. :)

  48. Welcome!!

    Funny you mention 'Where the Heart Is'. I was always a reader, but after I closed that book, I wanted to be a writer AND publish.

    Loved the part about never putting in Scripture and just showing actions, but I also love characters discussing verses.

    I have to read this again when I'm not being fed imaginary blueberry pie by small child.

  49. RUTHY, I always thought it was a cruel twist of fate that I got awesome insight when I was rocking babies to sleep...

    But now I just figure they're good for the brain. All those endorphins, aromatherapy from the sweet baby breath, relaxation...

  50. First of all this:
    Perhaps Emmanuel Velikovshy's speculative-science Worlds In Collision that co-joins cosmology and Biblical events.

    So cosmology...that's like beauty school right?

  51. Second, to be serious, I love this and am also mind boggled.

    I think I really understand it but I have trouble applying it. Once my agent, who loved your book Stan, said I have a good grasp of moral premise. And, like you said, a lot of it is I think instinctive. But I still struggle to be DELIBERATE. So if there is a strong moral premise it's TOTALLY BY ACCIDENT.
    In fact, after I discovered your book I set out to be just a speck more deliberate about the moral premise. Not heavy handed, I hope, but just a bit more well...deliberate. I don't know.
    Then, really close to the end it came to me clear as day that the DELIBERATE moral premise wasn't really the moral premise at all. So I had go back and UN-deliberate my books and RE-deliberate my book. I can't remember how it all ended, but the book is in print. I don't know which one. Hysterical amnesia no doubt.

  52. Got it with the presentation Stan. Steal your slides (which will include buying a new computer) and throw candy at my audience when I need a distraction.

    Fortunately, that is exactly what I had already planned to do.

  53. Also, I believe using the word Nicomachean on our blog may qualify us for the Pulitzer Prize, which is a goal of mine.
    I had hoped Of Mice...and Murder would bring that home for me but so far NOT.

  54. Also, if you (and Tamara) want to come to Omaha on (what day was it?) Okay, Novemeber 9th at around 10:30 am, and teach this class (can you condense it to about an hour please) I would appreciate that.
    I can't pay you of course but I could pick you up at the airport and I'd buy you both lunch.

  55. BTW I googled VIRTUES and got a list off the internet. It's fun to study the list adn think of the VICE that matches and consider how to apply a specific virtue to a story.
    I usually boil things down (when I try and put it into words) into generosity and greed. I think because greed is such a natural for criminals that then, to have the flip side virtue you're pretty much stuck with generosity. So this is expanding my thinking some. (which is crazy painful)

  56. Mary...

    "So, cosmology...that's like beauty school right?"


    In a way, yeah! The beauty of Natural Law.

  57. Mary and Others:

    I have been known to be "skyped" into conferences for Q&A after other presentations.

  58. Just got back from my six-month dental checkup and lunch. Glad to see such a lively discussion in progress! I need to be working on my wip--deadline fast approaching!--but now I'm back to thinking about MP and whether I've kept my characters on track.

    Whenever I'm working on a novel, I find I have a really hard time zeroing in on the central MP--or, more accurately, putting it into words. But usually (at least I hope so) it weaves itself in naturally, and only after the book is written can I look back and verbalize the MP more clearly.

  59. Wow! I think I'd have trouble wrapping my head around this even if it wasn't Monday. But it is, and I'm kinda lost in the fog. Maybe one of these days, I'll start getting a handle on MP and like Mary Connealy be more deliberate. Or like Tamera A. and put it in the first time instead of multiple rewrites. Or maybe not. However, thanks to Stan and Vince, I think I was able to put my current WIP's MP into words.

    Vince, your question about two characters coming from opposite ends and meeting in the middle really helped, especially since you used fear as your example. That's what my heroine struggles with. It also made me realize, my hero struggles with it, too, but from the other side of the coin.

    I'm still chewing on it, but I think I'm closer than I was before I first read this at 8am. :-)

    So... my MP, as it stands now...

    Living in fear leads to torment, but walking by faith leads to peace.

    Stan, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us today. I appreciate you putting the cookies on the bottom shelf.

    Now...if I were only taller. (think tall, Clari.) =)

  60. Tamera, I was delighted to see that Stan had included an interview with you as part of his post today! Hearing firsthand how another author has used both the MP and Stan's coaching was really insightful. In fact, until I was editing and uploading Stan's post, I had not checked out the "Coaching" link on his website. Definitely something I'm going to keep in mind for future books!

  61. Happy FIRST day of Seekerville's month-long Birthday Bash!

    At work, but can't wait to read all of Stan's post and all the wonderful comments.

  62. Dr. Stan, thank you for helping me understand how to use Natural Law to communicate with the reader. I see how it is subtle but yet makes a powerful difference when used instead of scripture.

    I read your explanation of the moral premise in The Kite Runner. Your statement about layering character motivation was also very helpful.

  63. Oh my goodness, you've given us a lot to think about.

    I appreciate you sharing with us today.

    I'm going to look at my story differently now.

    Thanks so much!
    Jackie L.

  64. Hi Stan:

    I live in Tulsa now but I lived in Pasadena in the 60’s. I worked for a time at JPL on the Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter programs but I left outer space to go into Philosophy. I used to walk through the CalTech campus on my way home after classes and there would be Richard Feynman outside talking to students. I wish I knew who he was back then. It’s amazing how you can just walk right by history!

    We philosophy students just loved the physics students back in the day. With their excited talk of black holes and subatomic particles their ideas made more sense as philosophy than they did as physics (at least to us). I thought charm was just charming. Physics was the place to be at that time. (If it just wasn’t for the math -- what could have been! : ( )

    BTW: according to the latest in subatomic physics, there seems to be evidence for non-caused events. (Particles that just pop into existence). These are not a consequence of the initial state. This might allow for materialism and freewill and miracles. But then I don’t know how one would prove that an event was not caused. Also, can we be sure that what happens at the subatomic level really can effect the observable world. This is where physicists lose me.

    I wrote a book where a time traveler goes back in time and talks to Euclid. He explains to Euclid that parallel lines actually do meet in infinity. The lines meet both logically and empirically. Euclid says the time traveler is insane. Parallel lines never meet by definition. It’s axiomatic. Only a fool would doubt this. “It would take a miracle for the lines to meet.” So much for miracles not being possible.

    About MPs in biopics. It helps to have George C. Scott play the hero and also have a story that’s a lot bigger than the character himself. A big American flag also helps. Now that spells box office. : )

    “If you slap an enlisted man, your career won’t turn out as well as it could have but if you don’t slap that enlisted man, you’ll finish your career with as a much more untarnished hero.”

    Perhaps there is a better MP than this?


    P.S. Erich von Daniken might be nuts but he did get me to go to Peru. The stuff he said was there, it is there! Why couldn’t God have made the extraterrestrials, too? : )

    P.P.S. Tamera Alexander has a free book up at this time on Amazon for the Kindle. It’s “From a Distance”.

    P.P.P.S. MARY: watch out that Dr. Williams is not really hidden outside your classroom or you might wind up like the Columbia Communication professor who was on line with Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall. This is my favorite film clip. Just kidding. It couldn’t happen to you. : )

  65. Thanks for all the great information. Lots to process. Happy Birthday Seekerville.

    Jodie Wolfe

  66. Hysterical amnesia... Mary, I think you just diagnosed my last ten years.


  67. Mary said: "But I still struggle to be DELIBERATE. So if there is a strong moral premise it's TOTALLY BY ACCIDENT."

    Yeah. I totally relate. When I try to be deliberate, the writing feels very forced. If I just let it happen, the characters usually tell me what their MP really is.


    Even so, all during the writing process I am now subconsciously listening for that pesky MP to reveal itself so I can make sure each step of the plot reflects it.

  68. I am as grateful as I am overwhelmed. Thank you for sharing your knowledge ... now to learn from it :-)

    Oh, and thank you for the "show, don't tell" about Bible verses. I understand now why I feel 'preached to' by some writers and not by others.

    Nancy C

  69. Happy Birthday Seekerville!
    And wow, what a first day!
    The Moral Premise, that's a lot to absorb and apply, but worth the effort!
    Thanks for being so willing to share with us today, Stan, and of course, Tamera, too!

    Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot com

  70. Vince,

    Indeed, small world. From 1970-1973 I trained NASA crew in Houston for the Skylab program. I was an electronic engineer for McDonnell Douglas. Hung around the 1-G trainers and ended up meeting most of the Apollo crew and getting their signatures on my checklists when I left the program.

    In college the only A's I got were not in Physics or Math (my majors) but in Philosophy. My interdisciplinary seminar thesis was on extra-terrestrial life and what happens (as a Christian scientist) if, in my career, I meet them. Alan Shepard was as close as I got.

    Non-caused events reside in the same ballpark with dark matter and junk DNA. In 100 years mankind will look back and groan at our ignorance... just as critics condemned the invention of the printing press, cars, planes, and thought bleeding was medicinal.

    Parallel lines indeed do meet -- easily -- in extra dimensions, of which cosmology (beauty school) tells us there are at least ten. That's how Jesus walked through walls. Easy with just 4 spacial ones.

    Cosmological evidence also tells us that the universe is expanding, but not from a point in 3D space. Our 3D reality resides, as it were, on the surface of an expanding 4D balloon. What are parallel lines, by the way?

    I believe in "extra-terrestrials." Although not in 3D... just a hunch that what we see is just for us. But as Christians we all believe in ET's. Heaven, by the way, exists in eternity where there is no space or time as we know it. That's what makes it "eternity".... extra dimensions... angels, saints, and the "super" natural world. Super = Extra-Dimensions, don't you know. (Yes, there's a book brewing here.)

    That prof in Annie Hall was the real Marshal McLuhan, "Media is the Massage." (Love that 4th wall stuff.)

  71. I thought I was educated (posess a masters degree in Communication), until I read this post and the dialogue between Vince and Doc. I'm brainless.

    That said. I do feel a bit smarter after reading the post - even if the muscles of my brain hurt from the extra exercise. There is a lot of information to process. It also makes me wonder why Monsters, Inc., The Iron Giant and the Princess Bride are the three movies that resonate so strongly with me. I wouldn't know where to begin.

    I would love an opportunity to win the Moral Premise book. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with Seekerville.

    you wrote: My life's mission is this: "Discover and promote divine truth to those within my sphere of influence."

    i would say that resonates very well with me too. i'd like to think my life's mission is the same (may i share the mission with you?).

  72. Deb, I agree--listening to Stan and Vince converse is an exercise in itself! I only THOUGHT I was relatively smart!

  73. Stan and Vince, I actually had a blog written for Seekerville called 'The Medium is the Message' at one point and set it aside.
    I studied marshall McLuan in College too and still remember 'hot and cold media' as something that really made sense to me.
    I was in neither physics NOR philosophy. I was in broadcast communications Radio/TV/Journalism.

    Oh yeah, Nebraska.

  74. Stan? Seriously? Skype?
    My computer doesn't have a camera on it, but to get you to my meeting thusly, I might get a new one! (or borrow someone's)

  75. Thank you for the interesting blog with so much to think about and learn.

    After reading the blog, I think one of the benefits of using the Moral Premise is that all the plot threads and character arcs will weave together to make a strong story.

    Moral Premise is now on my wish list!

    Best wishes

  76. Mary, Stan, and Vince--brilliant minds all.

  77. Stan,

    I enjoyed your workshop at ACFW and have been soaking up the information you've provided today. Thank you!

    So much food for thought.

    I'm saving your life's mission statement. Excellent! Divine truth is the key, isn't it? Seeking that truth is the essence of a life well lived, IMHO.

    I have so much to learn about the Moral Premise...

    Is the following too simplistic? Or am I missing the mark completely?

    Sin brings alienation, whereas forgiveness brings healing and redemption.

  78. Thank you so much, Stab. There is a lot to digest.
    I realize just preaching at someone can be a turn off and it's better to show the moral journey of the character.

    I don't like to preach in my books but I do like to use scripture.

    Tina P.

    1. BTW I typed Stan, but spell check corrected the name to stab. Go figure.

  79. Vince and I have all of you snookered. Our desks are piled with dictionaries and synonym finders, and then there's the volume, my favorite, "How to impress smart people with words even you don't understand."

  80. Re: Life Missions.

    You all should have one. My recommendation is Laurie Beth Jones' THE PATH. I also give a workshop on the topic. Once you know your mission in life, everything makes sense or non-sense, and your life decisions becomes much simpler.

  81. Debbie,

    Re: "Sin brings alienation, whereas forgiveness brings healing and redemption."

    You are very close. You have the right idea. Every character, however, needs to be dealing with the same opposite pairs of virtue and vice, or weaknesses and strengths.

    So, is "sin" a value? What is the opposite of "sin"? Is it "forgiveness?"

    Here's my take on those questions. "Sin," as a vice is too general. It's like using the word "vice." What type of sin, or what type of vice are you writing about? Here are the traditional Seven Deadly Sins (or vices) and their counter part virtues. You can update the terms.

    --Pride (Humility)
    --Covetousness (Liberality)
    --Lust (Chastity)
    --Anger (Meekness)
    --Gluttony (Temperance)
    --Envy (Brotherly Love)
    --Sloth (Diligence)

    From those you can extrapolate to values more specific. The more specific you can be the better you'll see what your story is really about.

    Thusly, I would not define "sin" and "forgiveness" as opposite values. I may value the importance of "forgiveness" but the opposite value would be something like "bitterness."

    You can build a story around bitterness and forgiveness.

  82. Be specific. Got it!

    That helps so much! Thank you!!!

    Actually, I think the story probably deals with Pride vs Humility. Or at least it will now. :) Plus, that gives me a better handle on both my hero and villain.

    So glad you could be with us today.

  83. Wow, Dr. Stan. This is an amazing tutorial. I have and have read your book, but some of what you said today is taking me to the next step. Thank you!

    Love to know that Tamera ("Hi," if you're out there, Tamera)is a pantser. Gives me such hope.

    What a tremendous start to Birthday month! Thanks to all the Seekers!

  84. Wow, Dr. Stan. This is an amazing tutorial. I have and have read your book, but some of what you said today is taking me to the next step. Thank you!

    Love to know that Tamera ("Hi," if you're out there, Tamera)is a pantser. Gives me such hope.

    What a tremendous start to Birthday month! Thanks to all the Seekers!

  85. I have no idea why that posted twice, but guess it needed to be said twice? lol...

  86. Lyndee, I agree. Stan is most deserving of the double dose of "amazing"! What a way to kick off Seekerville Birthday Month!

  87. That is too funny, Tina P! But then probably we all feel a little "stabbed" by all the information and insight Stan has brought us today! When I saw your comment earlier, I just chalked it up to a Freudian slip. :)

  88. Thank you so much for all the wonderful information. This post has taught me some new things. Again thank you for all the info...


  89. Virginia, I'm with you on Where the Heart Is. I loved that book, and it really inspired me to write better.

  90. I think maybe the story proposal I'm working on is also dealing with pride/humility.

    But I'm wondering if I'm thinking about it in the right way. Does this work?

    My hero is prideful--he OVERestimates his ability to control his life by thinking he has to remain vigilant to protect his family (or the family will fall apart). Thus, he's not depending on God.

    And the heroine UNDERestimates her ability to control her life by looking at it with tunnel vision, excluding possibilities (like loving the hero!) Thus, she's not depending on God.

    Now that I think about it, this leads to a premise that's similar to my recently turned in book's moral premise:

    Trying to protect ourselves and follow our own plans leads to loneliness and isolation. But trusting God with our lives, and risking love, leads to the rich, fulfilling life God intends.

  91. Missy, I don't think it's unusual at all that as writers we tend to "rewrite" the same themes and MPs but with different characters and plots. I think it's a way we deal with the issues that are most personal to us. For example, I often find myself writing about fear vs. trust.

  92. This comment has been removed by the author.

  93. Wow! What an awesome post! A lot of meat to digest! Thank you so much for sharing!


    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  94. Missy:

    You'll do better if you get away from "depending on God" and "not depending on God" as your controlling virtue and vice. You need something much more specific. Here's why.

    "Depending on God" as a value could be anything. It's the kind of phrase or jargon that every preacher, in every sermon, repeats in every paragraph, when teaching about any topic. Thus, it means nothing particular that we can see, taste, hear, smell, touch, or get up and hug (balance). ..until that particular is described.

    Depending (or not) on God relates to any of the value sets (virtue-vice) such as pride/humility, covetousness/liberality, lust/chastity, anger/meekness, etc.

    Is character prideful? Does he or she trust in themselves only? Are they humble? Does he or she seek out the advice of others? They may pray over a decision but God usually answers through the physical realm, unless you're writing a story about mystics and spiritual communication; then the story is about angels, saints, and God's spirit soaring through the room.

    Saying it another way, we don't get a printed itinerary on our bedside table in Charleston Heston reverberating handwriting. We do the writing ourselves, and if it's in keeping with Natural Law, we have a chance it will work. (Yes, I make Natural Law synonymous with God's will... because it's more physical and when writing stories we can SHOW it.)

    Put another way, "God's will" and "depending on God" are Christian jargon that I don't think anyone can define without also describing wise vs. foolish physical actions. I'm reminded of the sermon parable of the guy on the roof praying for God to rescue him from the flood, and turning away a helicopter and the Coast Guard. "No thank you, I'm waiting for God." We can say we depend on God, but it's wise to get on the jet ski that the beach bum with metal stuck all over his face, just piloted up next to your roof line so we can hop on.

    My reaction to your premise statement at the end of your comment is similar: "Trying to protect ourselves and follow our own plans leads to loneliness and isolation. But trusting God with our lives, and risking love, leads to the rich, fulfilling life God intends."

    You can only follow YOUR plans. God isn't handing you a blueprint. You have to figure out what is wise or foolish and make the plan yourself. (See Mt. 7:24-27). God still doesn’t show up like a pillar of fire with a day timer.

    So, what vice is your protagonist following that leads to loneliness and isolation. Is it arrogance, greed, lust, irrational fear, timidity, disrespect, etc. And what is your protagonist doing that leads to the opposite of loneliness and isolation, e.g. community, family, friendship. Is it humility, generosity, chastity, fear of God, boldness, respect?

    It will work better if your vice consequence (loneliness) is the polar opposite of the virtue consequence (which I don't think is "fulfilling life that God intends."). I say that because, a solo circumnavigating sailor may find the life that God intends, but it'll also be lonely. Be specific. The opposite of loneliness is friendship, the opposite of isolation is community.

  95. Jeanne T I'm still willing to crit for you (sorry about this not having anything to do with TMP)

    I'm a fan. I have the book. I read it. I chart from it. I use it for my OCD plotting. By the way, Dr. Stan, do you know how many of your books sold because Natasha Kern recommends it? Okay, that's not a trick question. I don't have the exact number either.

    Thank you for helping us out again! I'm anxious to hear how Mary's workshop goes.

  96. Must. Print. Off.
    Overwhelmed with excellent specific strategies.

    Wonderful info!!! Thanks for being here, Stan!!!

  97. Stan, thank you for your answer and for explaining it so well. I'll keep working on it, tweaking and getting into the more specific virtues and vices.

    I appreciate your help!

  98. Goodness, Stan and Myra, my apologies for coming in so late, but WOW, what a session!!

    Stan, this is a textbook unto itself, and a great refresher to your fabulous Moral Premise book, which I have read and tabbed just like Tamara mentioned in the video!! I suspect, Stan, that The Moral Premise may be one of the most tabbed books around, at least at my house!!

    Now to go print this blog off ... :)

    Thanks for sharing your incredible insight and expertise on this fascinating subject!


  99. By the way, I appreciate the input as I was "thinking out loud" about my story as I read your post and comments today. It's helpful for me to toss out ideas and play with them. :)

    Myra, I think you're right. I often go back to the same themes that have to do with my life.

  100. WOW!! Today's Seekerville post will go to the front of my Keeper File. So much to take in--thank you! (and waving at sweet Tammy Alexander---definitely one of my VERY favorite authors and so precious). ~ Thank you for taking the time to share with us today, Stan - - you're a wealth of knowledge. ~ Blessings, Patti Jo

  101. Definitely a great day in Seekerville! Once again, Stan, thank you for an excellent post and for being so generous in responding to questions and comments!

  102. I'll be saving this link to unpack it all a little at a time. So much to the moral premise that I've never thought about.

  103. Happy Birthday Seekerville! This was such an interesting post and I am a reader not a writer!

    Jes Swaks

  104. Stan, I've been thinking about the skype thing and I'd need to check internet connects if they're available where we meet. Stuff like that.
    I might contact you if I get it figured out. I'm such a techno-dork.

  105. Better late to Seekerville than not at all. I'm sorry I missed the discussion. (I also have degree in physics but went into the banking industry after spending several years in Japan).

    If I don't win, I'll definitely be downloading the book to my Nook.


  106. So sorry to be so very late to the party today!! I was having a Monday in spades and just now having time for anything that isn't urgent. As you know, I'm a huge fan and was so thrilled when I first realized you had written TMP because then I didn't have to do it myself ;-) after having similar thoughts for years but without all your wonderful film examples. Hugs to you and Tammy.

  107. I don't know why I'm anonymous. It has been a long day! Hugs to all -- Myra, Stan, Tammy and all the Seekers from Natasha

  108. You made some interesting points Stan that I will keep in muind if I ever write a book!

  109. What a great discussion! I highly recommend investing in a coaching session with Stan. Your story (and your readers) will thank you for it. Truly.

    Happy Bday, Seekerville! Appreciate you gals!

  110. Hugs back, Natasha! I wondered who that "anonymous" commenter was. :) Actually, most of us here in Seekerville have you to thank for pointing us to Stan's wonderful book!

    Tammy, thanks again for allowing Stan to include your interview in his post, and also for popping in to join the discussion!

  111. What a wonderful Birthday present for us all! Stan, love your life's mission statement! And you do it so well. I think it encompasses why many of us write.

  112. A gritty post with lots to consider. Many thanks.

  113. Natasha told me to use it in my story. I have no choice. :)

    Anna Labno

  114. LOL, Anna--you have Natasha figured out! "Listen and obey!"

  115. Once again "the moral premise guy" gives fantastic information. It will take some time to go through all of this!
    Thanks so much,

  116. The Moral Premise sounds like a wonderfully helpful book. I've no doubt it will help me with my plotting. Thank you for the information.

    I must have this book! ;) Oh, and chocolate...

    (Thank you to Debbie Giusti for guiding me to Seekerville!)