Charting Your Way to a
Story--The Moral Premise
By Missy Tippens
Missy Tippens, here. And I’m the self-proclaimed "Queen of Charts." I have a whole file on my computer of charts and forms that I use while planning characters and stories.
I’ve previously shared one of these, my combination of a GMC chart (from Debra Dixon) and Magic Conflict Chart (from Carolyn Greene). Click here to see that post.
Today, I’m going to share one of my Moral Premise charts. This is a chart I made after reading The MoralPremise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success by Stanley D.Williams. We’ve had Dr. Williams as a guest on the blog, plus several of us have blogged about his book, which my agent Natasha Kern recommended. You can check those articles out here, and here.
One of the things I love about his how-to book is that it shows how readers relate to movies/books that have resonance. And resonance comes about by showing the main characters growing, changing, overcoming, and becoming better people. According to Williams, the goal of a storyteller is to take the audience/reader through an emotional and psychological journey that reveals a poignant truth (the moral premise) about the human experience.
Williams also talks about the premise (psychological truth) being offered up to the characters multiple times. But there’s a mid-point moment, the moment of grace, where the protagonist sees the solution to his dilemma, and it makes clear the fundamental conflict of his journey. He’s confronted with an understanding of the human condition in light of the moral premise and his own predicament. Of course, he then has the choice to accept the truth and apply it to his predicament (and have a happy ending) or to reject it (and have an unhappy ending).
I highly recommend The Moral Premise:Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success. It’s been a huge help for me in planning my characters and plot. I won’t go into virtue and vice today. Look at previous posts for more on that.
Today, I want to share part of my Moral Premise Chart (The Good Guy Arc Plot from Williams’s book, pg. 123) for Georgia Sweethearts, my most recent release from Love Inspired.
Daniel: to make a difference
Lilly: to find security
Behavior before (vice practiced) in striving toward a personal goal…
Dreamer and planner (not good at following through, moves around)
Practical, no dreams allowed.
Moment of Grace in the personal subplot…
Gets glimpse of settling down and supporting Lilly.
Black moment: the reality of her trusting him leads to fear, and he returns to the safety of moving on.
Gets a glimpse of trusting and dreaming of a future.
Black moment: the reality of him proving he’ll leave makes her revert to protecting herself, and she decides to move back to her safe life (will sell shop)
Behavior after (virtue practiced) in striving toward a personal goal…
God has given her to him to love and care for; she needs the life she’s built. The new reality of her leaving shows him the cost of him moving on. He decides to trust God for strength to be the man she needs. Asks her to stay.
As she’s about to sign contract, she thinks of her sister grabbing happiness. She can do it, too. Daniel is worth the risk for her dream of a secure future with him.
Daniel is a pastor who wants to make a difference in his community. As the story opens, he’s shown to be a dreamer and planner. But he’s not so good at following through and tends to move around (in the name of starting new churches).
Lilly, who had an insecure childhood, often uprooted by her dreamer father who couldn’t keep a job, wants to find security. In the beginning, we see her being practical. Dreams are not allowed.
At the midpoint of the story, Daniel gets a taste of what it would be like to settle down with Lilly and to support her. Lilly gets a glimpse of what it’s like to trust someone (Daniel) and starts to actually dream of a future. Things start to look good for both of them.
You can see I’ve added their black moments to the chart. I think it’s important to plan what is going to make the characters revert to their vice.
So just as things start looking good for Daniel and Lilly, Daniel observes Lilly trusting him and is struck by fear. His reaction? He decides it’s time to move on and start another new church in a new community. Which leads to Lilly’s black moment. By telling her he’s moving, he’s shown her that, no, you really can’t trust people. She must revert to her former, safe life. She’ll sell the shop she’s grown to love and move back to her old location.
Of course, then the characters will have final realizations and will have grown enough by this point to choose the virtue over vice.
In this story, I had a moral premise in mind while writing (and if you look at the comments section of Stan Williams’s 10-1-12 post, you’ll see he had some great input for re-working my premise). Here it is:
Trying to protect ourselves and follow our own plans leads to loneliness and isolation. But risking love, and trusting God with our lives, leads to the rich, fulfilling life God intends.
Using that premise, you can see the virtue I was heading for and can guess how the story should end.
Daniel realizes God has given him Lilly to love and care for, and he wants the best for her. He sees what his leaving has cost Lilly and decides to trust God for the strength to be the man she needs. He asks her to stay.
Lilly realizes she’s stronger than she thinks she is, and Daniel is worth the risk. She wants to dream of a secure future with him in it.
I hope looking at this chart has helped. If you’d like to read Georgia Sweethearts to see how all this plays out, I’d be honored! You can find it here:
Today I’ll be giving away a phone or email chat to one commenter for us to discuss your moral premise or your moral premise chart. Please TELL ME IF YOU WANT TO BE ENTERED in the giveaway.
Now, tell me what you think. Do you see some sort of moral premise arc in your story? Do you think it would help to add one?