Friday, October 15, 2010

Seekerville welcomes Dr. Stanley Williams, "The Moral Premise Guy"

It's my distinct pleasure to welcome independent television and film writer-producer and author Stanley D. Williams, PhD, to Seekerville today! I was first introduced to Stan's excellent book, The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, by my agent, Natasha Kern, and found his theories and instruction immensely enlightening. Stan and I have been corresponding via e-mail for several months now, so I asked him to be our guest today to explain more about The Moral Premise and how we can use it to give our stories more depth, meaning, and lasting impact. Please join me in giving Stan a warm Seekerville welcome!


Since Myra Johnson invited me to post and write something that might be useful to all of you, I've had the immense pleasure of enjoying five Seeker novels, and exchanging e-mails with some of you about your writing and your perception of the moral premise. The result of that research suggests that I use this space to explain a bit more about what the moral premise is, and how it can help you write focused, engaging stories. Although, based on what I've read, you need little advice from me. Every book brought tears to my eyes.


The moral premise, or more specifically, the Moral Premise Statement (MPS), is a fairly simple concept that when properly understood will help focus your writing and help what you write connect more fully with your readers.

Although my expertise is principally feature films, the theory behind the moral premise applies to all storytelling—films, novels, short shorts, news stories, and even weather forecasts. (Yes, those are stories too, with a moral purpose ("Don't go out in the rain.").


Stories will be more powerful and connect with audiences and readers on a profound level when all of your characters' decisions, actions, and resulting consequences (psychological and physical ) focus on one set of values. By "set of values" I mean two naturally opposing motivations or moral constructs—virtue and a vice—e.g. selflessness vs. selfishness.

Or, take the conflict constructed by bitterness vs. forgiveness, two psychological values that generate physical consequences and thus drama. Characters with goals start off harboring bitterness and striving with each other over the attainment of said goals. As the conflict escalates, hopefully, someone will discover the opposite to bitterness and try forgiveness. Then redeeming consequences result. But understanding that bitterness is in conflict with forgiveness is the moral core of your story.

Of course, it's all much more complicated than that, as all stories are. But now you can create a statement that summarizes what everything in your story is really about. For instance, your story can be about how...

Bitterness leads to destruction; but
Forgiveness leads to life.

That's a good MPS. Study its form for a moment. Notice that it has four parts:

(1) A psychological vice leads to a (2) physical curse; but
(3) A psychological virtue leads to a (4) physical blessing.

Or, even more simply:

Vice leads to bad;
Virtue leads to good.

Simple, right? It's like brain-dead stuff. But it is actually very deep and compelling when integrated into your story. To unpeel the onion, it's important to see that each line follows this generic formula:

Mental decisions lead to physical consequences.

And then recognize that you cannot have a character take some physical action without it being motivated by a value in the mind. Let me say it again, all physical CONSEQUENCES that your characters experience is based on a mental decision based on some combination of psychological VALUES.

For example you are reading this blog post, but what did you do before you began to read it? You decided to read. That's no small matter. You used a psychological VALUE (a thirst for knowledge) to motivate your ACTION (read), and the CONSEQUENCE that naturally results (better writing).


So, let's go back and examine the MPS:

Bitterness leads to destruction; but
Forgiveness leads to life.

To make this work so your story RESONATES with TRUTH at every TURN of the plot, it is REQUIRED that EVERY CHARACTER struggle with some version of the same MPS. That is, every character struggles with bitterness, and if they let it fester, that bitterness will lead them to some form of dread. If the character is supposed to be redeemed by the end of the story, the bitterness (which has resulted in some dreadful circumstances befalling the character) will morph into forgiveness (with the resulting redemptive physical blessings).

Now, on the surface that sounds pretty boring, because as wordsmiths you're thinking, "Does that mean I have to use the term bitterness and forgiveness every time I go about explaining what character A, then B, and then Z, went through?" No. That's why there are Synonym Finders. Actually you have two choices.


Let's look Julie Lessman's A PASSION DENIED, the story about a young lady who's convinced that the slightly older John Brady is her future husband; but John cannot allow his love for Lizzie to be expressed for fear of losing control of his passions because of his questionable past.

If you've read this, the third book in The Daughters of Boston series, you'll recognize that some of Julie's characters deal with bitterness. Patrick, the father of the O'Conner clan, becomes bitter when he discovers that his wife of 25 years did not love him on their wedding day. It's a good example of TSTL (Too Stupid to Live)... but he does. But while he's dealing with his bitterness toward Marcy he's headed for destruction in many ways, some of which Julie articulates, and some of which she might have added. What's evident in the story is Patrick's health fades (he spends over a month sleeping on a couch at his work rather than in his bed with Marcy). His family also begins to disintegrate as the love and honesty that has kept the family together is severely drained by Patrick's dishonesty about not sleeping at home. What Julie doesn't describe, but would be evident if this MPS were applied to all aspects of Patrick's life, would be that his business and the relationships with customers and employees similarly suffers the consequences of his bitterness.

Thus, in this particular subplot, we'd see how the natural law of sowing bitterness and forgiveness reaps opposite consequences. Now, Julie does not have to use the term "bitterness" or even "forgiveness" in describing Patrick's application of the two values. She has two options. First, she can simply describe what he does and what happens. Cause and effect. It's the simple formula that popular movies use. If you show the consequences of decisions and actions thoroughly, very little didactic explanation is necessary; and audiences like figuring things out on their own.

Second, when there is need to make clear what the story is about, Julie can open her synonym finder and for "forgiveness" come up with words like "absolve," "pardon," "exonerate," "mercy," "grace," ...etc.

Likewise, each of the other characters must also deal with bitterness, but on different levels and in different situations. John is bitter toward his stepmother for her immoral behavior, Michael is bitter with John for refusing to sign estate papers, Marcy is bitter with Patrick for not being home more, and Lizzie is bitter with John for not expressing his passion for her. When Julie goes to express this malaise of bitterness, she's likely to use various synonyms for the various characters and their different situations. John holds onto a resentment for Lucille, Michael is angry toward John, Marcy is short-tempered, and Lizzie is... is... well, all a-tizzy.


Now, Julie's novel is explicitly about passion, and so she also has the option of coming up with an alternate MPS that says the same thing as the former, but with different terms. One thing that Patrick was doing, in his bitterness, was denying Marcy his sexual passion. But he was also denying his commonplace passion for all the other things in his family's life that he loves. Thus, we might construct a different version of the MPS that works more universally:

Denying God's gifts of passion in our lives leads to separation and dread; but
Embracing God's gifts of passion in our live leads to community and vitality.

Now, I do not advocate creating different MPS for each character, because different terms do have subtle differences in meaning. What you'll discover, however, is that as you write you'll find different ways to express the same conflict of values and their consequences. As soon as you discover one expression that seems universal to all the characters in your story, latch on to it, and toss the other ones away.


Using this last MPS we see that it should apply to each of the other characters, not just to Patrick. John Brady denies God's gift of passion (e.g. Lizzie) and his life is one isolated affair, Michael Brady denies God's gift of passion (for God) and is left with separation from Lizzie, John, and Helena. Lizzie doesn't directly deny God's passion for her life (John) but she does deny God's passion for patience and obedience, and that deals her so many twists and turns that I was surprised there wasn't an epilogue explaining why, at story's end, Lizzie wasn’t in a mental ward for emotionally whiplashed heroines.

On the opposite side of the moral premise we have a virtue that leads to redemption, wholeness, happiness, and life. We see Marcy and Patrick forgive the mistakes of each other, embrace each other (God's gifts of passion) and embrace, again, their role as role models for their friends and family. Lizzie finally gets the hang of pursing God's passion, even going to a seminary where she "seduces" John Brady, and there John repents of his pride (a version of denying God's passion for humility) and they finally end up together.

Given more time, we could take each of the other characters and explore how they do and don't reflect the positive and negative sides of the moral premise statement, to give the reader a satisfying and true experience. In your writing, where you can't figure out how the main moral decisions that define the turning points in your story fit together, it's time to change your story so they do.


Now, some of you may be sharp enough to ask, how do you wrangle a MPS when the story is about the importance of suffering? My answer is that your characters need to reflect the reality of life if they are to connect with readers, and suffering often occurs to real people even when they make morally good decisions all the time. Yet, when bad things happen to good people it may seem to negate the Moral Premise concept. But the moral premise is not karma. For example, a karma understanding of Jesus' life and death would suggest that Jesus, to be murdered like he was, did something really bad. But a correct understanding of reality tells us that his passion and death resulted in an ultimate good, for all people, in all time, and all places. So, his goodness, had an eternally good outcome. In like manner, any of your characters suffer something bad, which brings ultimate good. A MPS form that works for such situations is:

Doing what is right, though it leads to immediate death, brings ultimate freedom; but
Doing what is wrong, though it leads to immediate life, brings ultimate slavery.

Another example: The MPS for the movie BRAVEHEART, where William Wallace's courage and sacrificial leadership led to his death, can be stated like this:

Compromise of liberty leads to tyranny; but
Dying for liberty leads to freedom.

The one thing you can never do with the MPS (and have it work for you) is to have it say something that is not, in reality, true. Only TRUE moral premise statements lead to success.


One of the things many writers do (and several of you have told me this) is to focus on a theme of what you're writing, by printing it on an index card and taping it over your computer screen. But a theme is only going to solve 25% of your problems. What you need is the 100% solution.

Let me explain by looking at Cheryl Wyatt's A SOLDIER'S PROMISE. Here we have the story of Amber, a private school teacher, her young student Bradley who is dying from leukemia, and a U.S. Air Force pararescue jumper, Joel, who literally drops into their lives. Because of what appears to be different value systems, the relationship Amber and Joel both seek is in doubt (at least for 200 pages, although this IS a romance, and there's not a chance they won't end up together).

The THEME of A SOLDIER'S PROMISE could be expressed in any one of these four ways.

a. Timidity Meets Stubbornness
b. The Isolation of Love
c. Sacrifice of Self
d. The Demands of Relationship

But tacking one of those onto the edge of your computer screen may ultimately result in writer's block. Why? Because a theme alone does not answer the basic story structure questions. For instance, using just ONE of those themes does not answer:

a. What happens when timidity meets stubbornness?
b. Under what circumstances does love isolate?
c. What good does it do to sacrifice oneself for any cause?
d. What are the demands of a relationship?

But look what happens when we take those themes and put them into a cohesive moral premise statement? Here are two versions of the same story:

Commitment without compromise leads to isolation; but

Commitment with compromise leads to relationship.


Timidity or stubbornness leads to isolation; but
Sacrifice and love leads to relationship.

Or, you might combine them:

Commitment without compromise (due to timidity or stubbornness) leads to isolation; but
Commitment with compromise (because of sacrifice and love) leads to relationship.

Now, you have answers to those writer’s-block type of questions and you know what inner struggles of values your characters are struggling with, and what the results are going to be when they give into to one value or the other:

a. What happens when timidity meets stubbornness? The characters experience some form of isolation or separation.

b. Under what circumstances does love isolate? When the characters refuse to compromise on their goals for the sake of the other.

c. What good does it do to sacrifice oneself for any cause? It leads to relationships with like-minded individuals.

d. What are the demands of relationships? That the people involved compromise as part of the commitment process. It's what true love does.

With those answers you are ready to plot out the conflict and the sort of decisions that will result in bringing this couple to the altar.


In Mary Connealy's western romantic comedy PETTICOAT RANCH, it's 1867 in Mosqueros, Texas, and Sophie and her daughters are hiding out in an old cabin in the brush from the outlaws that killed her husband, Cliff, and took their ranch. One rainy night they rescue a man who runs his horse into the ravine. The man is Cliff's unknown (good) twin brother, Clay, who has come to rescue Sophie and the girls. But of course, this is a romance, so before we "let" the man rescue the girls (or pretend to), the girls have to first rescue the man (or we're led to believe they did). (Yep, this here is a man writing?)

A good moral premise for PETTICOAT RANCH, which applies to even the minor characters is:

Seeking revenge leads to destitution; but

Seeking justice leads to satisfaction

Revenge is seeking to control others for our personal twisted understanding of satisfaction. If you're familiar with this story, you'll notice that this moral premise theme is applied to each character. Cliff sought revenge on Sophie for not birthing him a boy...even though we now know it was HIS gene's fault. Clay is hounded and hoodwinked by the womenfolk when he seeks to silence them for what he mistakenly thinks will give him peace. Adam battles the revenge he feels towards Judd and the gang, but by suppressing it he's able to help bring about justice. Sophie's thoughts of revenge probably led her into the bush and using foul-smelling disguises, a form of destitution. But with Clay's help she argues herself back to the justice theme. And Judd, the epitome of revenge, leads himself and his gang to destitution, at least to the degree allowed by Christian romance. I wanted a bit more justice, frankly, my dear.


In The Moral Premise, I write about the importance of MOMENTS OF GRACE (MOG), the midpoint in a character's arc where they change their motivations from that of the vice side of the MPS to the virtuous side. The moment is brought about by the trials pushed upon the character by their nemesis. (c.f. James 1 about how trails make us stronger.) For the protagonist the Moment of Grace is usually in the middle of the story. For other characters, it can appear anywhere, even in the story's climax.

Revisiting PETTICOAT RANCH for a moment, Sophie and her new husband, Clay, are at each other's throats. Clay wants to take care of Sophie and the girls (Mandy, Beth, Sally and Laura) but Sophie has done just fine (almost) without Clay's help and it's a little hard for Sophie to give up her independence. She's still feeling revenge for the past years, and she's really not ready to give in to a man, fully. Until, that is, Judd's gang tries to kill her and Clay by taking potshots at them while they work on their ranch. At that moment Sophie starts to change.

In Ruth Logan Herne's WINTER'S END Kayla Doherty, R.N., is a hospice nurse who braves the cold, harsh winter of upper New York State to care for Pete DeHollander, a dying man in his old, drab, but well-kept farmhouse. Years before WINTER'S END begins, Mrs. DeHollander, tired of farm life and marriage, left the family for the big city, leaving Pete to raise Marc and kid sister, Jess, an active 4H'er. During Kayla's visits to the homestead, Marc becomes Kayla's bittersweet love interest. He knows how to run the farm and the feed store and guide Jess in her animal husbandry projects, but one of the things that separate him from Kayla is Marc's lack of Christian faith.

The story's MPS can be stated like this:

Bitterness toward those that hurt us leads to confusion and separation; but

Forgiveness of those that hurt us leads to purpose and attachment.

In the center of the story Jess' horse, "Grace," gives birth to a filly, that Jess names "Glory." It's an emotional moment as Marc leads Jess to the barn to see the foal for the first time. Marc thinks Jess will name the foal "Sweetheart," but Jess says, "Not now that I've seen her." (Jess) eyed Grace for a moment, then turned Marc's way. "She'll be Glory...the beginnings of my breeding program. Grace and Glory." Ruth then writes:
The names stopped Marc's progress. His throat tightened at the look on Jess' face, her belief in all things holy.

Her strength tweaked a memory of a boy who believed in God, in heaven and hell. Gifts of the Spirit. For a moment he couldn't say anything, then he took a step back, approving. "Nice combination, Jess."

A smile lit her face, her eyes on the mother-foal duo. "Yes. It is."
Now, I like very much how this is written. The layered meaning of the new birth of the foal and the words spoken between Marc and Jess, parallel the rekindling of new birth in Marc's heart, and the budding of "true" romance between Marc and Kayla. This is the moment of grace for Marc, and it's not accidental that the horse's name is Grace, or that accepting grace can usher one into glory, in this life and the next. And that is the turning point for Marc, and thus a major turning point for the whole story. Nice job, Ruth.

So, writers, please understand the critical importance of a Moment of Grace in all your characters. At I explain many other MOG's, both for the good guys and the villains.


This whole approach to writing, using the moral premise as the cornerstone of your story's structure, sounds a little left-brained. And it is. Unfortunately. I think most creative people are right-brained. And if you try to write using your left brain (as I often do) you may end up with something that is technically flawless, but doesn't resonate with vitality. That is a problem with using the moral premise too literally and following it legalistically.

In Myra Johnson's AUTUMN RAINS, Valerie Bishop is the widow of Tom, a man who, while walking across a street to mail a letter to an incarcerated friend, Gus, is hit by a car driven by criminals who are evading police. The "accident" puts the criminals on the run and one of them grabs a pregnant Valerie as hostage and then pushes her away into an obstruction that causes a miscarriage. Valerie, suffering psychologically with the wound of her double loss, imprisons herself in her brother's home, caring for the house and her brother's family. Until Healy Furgeson, an ex-con, shows up to live above the garage.

The moral premise for AUTUMN RAINS can be stated like this:

Trusting in your own wisdom and knowledge leads to a dreadful imprisonment; but

Trusting in God's wisdom and knowledge leads to a pleasant freedom.

When I wrote to Myra and told her what I thought the MPS was for the book and what Valerie's Moment of Grace was, Myra disclaimed any awareness of either. But the book solidly contains both. Myra wrote:
...not to say I don't put a lot of thought into scenes, characters, and plots, but honestly, I don't know the details of what's going to happen until I'm immersed in the writing. Later I will look back at a completed ms. and wonder where in the world some of that stuff came from! For me, it's the most fun part of being a writer--the journey of discovery!
Myra is very typical of good writers. In chapter 4 of The Moral Premise I describe the "natural processes" of how stories come to Hollywood writers—Trial and Revision, Instinct & Osmosis, Naturally, Talent, and Perseverance & Perspiration.

As Myra suggested in another part of the email, good writing isn't so much about following formulas, but about allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire us and to keep before us the Truth about which the story is really about.


Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D. is an independent television and film writer-producer and author of The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success. He is also a story consultant to Hollywood, workshop leader, and speaker. He can be contacted through his book's website, or his movie blog


Stan has offered to stop in as time permits and answer any questions you may have about The Moral Premise, so let's get the discussion flowing! Also, leave your e-mail address to be entered in a drawing for a copy of Stan's book. Once you've grasped this amazing concept, your fiction will never be the same!


  1. Holy cow I feel like I'm back in college and need to take notes! I've actually never heard of The Moral Premise before but I've been enlightened!

    Julie even Dr. Stanley knows you don't go anywhere without your synonym finder. :-P LOL

    Thanks for the informative post and since I haven't said it in a while, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SEEKERVILLE!

    XOXO~ Renee

  2. Wow, that was a seriously in depth learning session! I need to re-read that again - probably several times to really get it. It definitely makes sense and I look forward to getting a real grasp on it! Thank you Dr Stanley.

  3. Hi Dr. Williams:

    I got the impression while reading “The Moral Premise” that you believe that not plotting stories is one of the biggest causes of rewrites, writing delays, writer’s block and stories failing to be completed.

    Would you like to expand on this belief? Also, what do you think of a writer who creates a storyborad of his novel's scenes before writing the copy?


  4. Mary Connealy and I were discussing this book last week. Thank you for coming, Dr. Williams, and clarifying some of the things I was struggling with comprehending in the book.

  5. Dr. Williams,

    This is a great post--very informative! :) Thank you so much for sharing about "The Moral Premise" with us! The examples were helpful, and it was great to see how you came up with an MPS for different books by the authors of Seekerville.

    In regards to the last part of the post, you said that Myra claimed she wasn't really aware of the MPS embedded in her story. Do you think it would make a story deeper and more beneficial for readers if the author were aware of an MPS for his or her story before or during the writing of the novel?

    I'm in a Literary Criticism class right now in college, and part of my mind is jumping up and down saying, "This ties in to what you're learning somehow!" I'm trying to think... Are you more of the persuasion that good art (in this case, literary) is art that has a moral lesson readers can learn from it? Do you think all good art has to have an MPS in order to be "good"? Or does all art have an MPS whether the author/artist is aware of it (or even wants to include it) or not? (Like what you said about weather forecasts having a moral purpose.)

    I'm just curious. I'm not asking this because I want to write something that doesn't have an MPS in it!

    Plus, I want to sound smart like Vince. ;)

    Thank you again for sharing with us!



  6. Excellent! I appreciate the detailed explanation of how to show characters operating from their core set of values. I can see how focusing on the moral premise really does take a story to a more meaningful level. And thanks so much, Dr. Williams, for sharing so many examples we can relate to!

    How do you advise writers in creating that pivotal moment when a character begins to change inside? Are there tips for making that kind of scene interesting enough to the reader, yet also realistic for how the heart and mind truly work?

    reneeasmith61 [at] yahoo [dot] com

  7. Wow. I am printing this out! I like how the Moral Premise encompasses the theme, the change, the challenges of the work.

    I appreciated your use of authors I know to illustrate. I am thinking a good exercise for me would be to go through some books to see what I could pick out as the MP.

    Peace and thanks again, Julie

  8. There was so much shared today! This article requires a reread and more delving! I was most impressed with the examples used by terrific authors!
    Thank you for sharing.
    God bless!


  9. This will be a printed out by so many of us, I'm sure.

    Thank you for visiting and sharing with the Seekerville audience, Mr. Williams.

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  10. Loves 2 Read Romance - LauraOctober 15, 2010 at 8:00 AM

    I agree I feel like I should be taking notes! Thank you Stan for coming by and sharing this amazing way of approaching how to write. I can't think of any questions right now but I will post some if I think of any.

    fantum2004 AT sbcglobal DOT net

  11. This really helped me and Thank God my brain is working today because this is heavy duty stuff. I DO HAVE the book, likewise because Ms. Natasha Kern suggested it and this post has gone a long way to helping prepare me for reading it. I look forward to figuring out the MPS for the WIP.

    Can I take a rain check on questions? I know I'll have one after I read the book!
    Thanks, Dr. Williams and Myra!

  12. Oops! I meant to type Dr. Williams, not Mr. Williams.

  13. Oh WOW, which one of you Seekers paid this guy for the promo!!!
    Goodness, how awesome was THIS!

    Dr. Williams,
    Fabulous post. I'm off to purchase the Morale Premise right now. Wow.
    Do some writers do this naturally? I mean, without writing out the premise, but it's just a natural way they write?
    I can see it in a few of my ms in hind-sight, but to really notice it while writing would enrich the story much more.

  14. This is so great! I've been reading your book, Dr. Stanley since Missy introduced me to the MPS and I'm sold on the whole concept.

    I think my biggest problem is I start out with a MPS that may be too simple, doesn't emcompass the total idea of the book. Like right now, I'm working on a book where I started out with the theme, 'Love the sinner, hate the sin.' My first MPS was too simple but with Missy's help, I settled on this:

    'Principles without love leads to alienation, secrets and death, but forgiveness out of love leads to inclusion and a godly, abundant life.'

    I seem to be having problems getting to a more complex MPS--do you have any suggestions to simplify that process?

    And thanks for being here at Seekerville--

    Patty Smith Hall

  15. I meant Dr. Williams! What can I say--my brain isn't quite awake yet.


  16. I"m with Renee because I felt like I was back in college. smile
    Thanks Dr. Williams and welcome to Seekerville. Very deep post and definitely a keeper.

    I'm with Pepper to the bookstore to purchase this book.

    And it was fun to use the Seeker examples. Since I've read all those books, it was interesting to have the morale premise pointed out like that.

    Ruthy's not here yet so I'll bring some Krispy Creme donuts to go with some Chocolate Velvet coffee. There's tea also for you tea drinkers.

  17. That is a lot of information. I'll have to study it again also. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Great details and examples in the article! Very helpful for writers-in-training. Thank you! :-)


  19. WOW.


    (Told ya Seekerville was PhD level stuff...)

    Thanks Dr. Williams for stopping by. Your fantabulous Seeker examples assisted in making it all the more real. It's a printer-offer for sure.

    We see continual remakes in film and television. Does this tie in somehow to your concept?

    **Sounds like this whole "writing gig" is real work... ;D

    Renee - you crack me up: Julie even Dr. Williams knows you don't go anywhere without your synonym finder. :-P LOL

  20. And Dr. Williams - What a provocative cover!!! Looks like it could be a romance novel for sure!

    Adding email too - may at maythek9spy dot com

  21. First, let me thank Stan publicly for reading Winter's End and offering his wisdom. What a gracious man to take so much time out of his busy schedule to help us, teach us, enable us.

    We are truly grateful and I agree with Rose, this will be printed off by many today because your expertise is so worthy of being taped to the wall, a steady reminder of a book's/film's growth curve.

    I'm late because I was busy answering yesterday's crew (and a great bunch you were!!!) and finishing revisions (and I love them and Melissa for suggesting them) and I had to bake.

    It's Friday, therefore I bake. Very truth-table friendly, if P, then Q....

    Apple-blueberry breakfast kuchen, old German recipe made by a Celtic girl....

    Sausage and eggs with O'Brien potatoes (there's the Irish comin' through!!!)

    Croissants for a taste of New Orleans and lovin' Drew Brees...

    Coffee. Flavored. Plain. Sweet creamers. Tea. Soda, diet or regular.

    Dig in. And I know that Stan's words are a lot to take in, so feel free to come back later and ask questions after a re-read.

    Dr. Stanley: Thank you again.

    We're honored and blessed to have you here.


  22. Good morning, Dr. Williams! And welcome to Seekerville! Like Myra, my agent Natasha Kern also recommended your book--and because I've read both it and the Seeker books you used as examples, your post really helps underline all the opportunities you have to subtley strengthen your story with premise. Keeps it moving in the right direction and gives it substance.

    Up until a few years ago I hadn't really understood much about this except in a vague, instinctive way. But once I "got it" it led to my first sale--and hopefully to many more!

    Thanks again for joining us today!

  23. Dear Seekers:

    It's 10AM and I see I'm already behind. What a nice response from all of you. Thank you Myra for making the post look so nice with pictures of the books that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    I will answer all questions you post here, but not all at once. I'm in the midst of preparing for a Moral Premise Workshop in Los Angeles, and am writing a blog on the movie INCEPTION, which is kind of a LOVE story, although a sad one. So, let me take care of some business first, and then in my additional posts I will take your questions one at a time.

    If you're in the L.A. area, or know someone who is, I invite you to my all day moral premise workshop November 6. Information about it is here:

    If you want an autographed book please order it here:

    Okay, now I'll go back and look at those questions. Please come back for my answers.

  24. Thanks for the great post. Very interesting.

  25. Dr. Williams,

    This is a great lesson! Thank you so much for enlightening us all today.

    My question echoes some earlier posts. Does it enhance a story if an author knows their moral premise and pivotal moment before writing, or does this come naturally to some? I know that in my current projects I wasn’t aware of the characters’ pivotal moments until going through the editing process.

    Thank you, again, for the great information. I’m joining the crowd of those printing this post for future reference. And I'm sure I'll be visiting the site to get a copy of the book.


  26. Good morning, Dr. Williams.
    I always admire anyone who can put into words a concept that is, inherently, hard to put into words.
    The idea of premise is something most of us don't really understand and yet on a subconcious level, we respond to it. Changing a good book or movie into a GREAT book or movie.

    I think, as writers, we HAVE a moral premise in our books usually, but on an instinctive level.

    Reading your book helped me be more aware of it.

    Thanks for being on Seekerville.

  27. STAN!!! It's SO good to see you here, Dr. MP -- thank you for coming to Seekerville and sharing the wealth!!

    Like most everyone else, I will be printing this puppy off so that the next time Natasha asks me what the moral premise of my book is (which she does EVERY single time and I have yet to get it right!!), I will whip this blog out and hopefully surprise and amaze her!! :)

    Seriously, thank you again, Dr. Williams, for not only taking the time to talk to us today, but for reading our books to use as examples -- it's exciting to read your insight on each of them.

    Oh-oh ... better run ... I have a new character in the "mental ward for emotionally whiplashed heroines" that I need to visit ... (big, cheesy grin here) :)

    Have a great day!


  28. Vince writes:

    "I got the impression while reading “The Moral Premise” that you believe that not plotting stories is one of the biggest causes of rewrites, writing delays, writer’s block and stories failing to be completed.

    Would you like to expand on this belief? Also, what do you think of a writer who creates a storyboard of his novel's scenes before writing the copy?


    Stan Williams responds:

    Vince, indeed if you don't plot out a story before you write, knowing where the major turning points are and what happens at the end, you'll be rewriting forever. Storyboarding is one way to do that, but typically storyboards are to assist filmmakers in knowing how to frame shots and edit them together. The story construction (as opposed to visual construction) can be done with cards taped to a wall. I use a program called KEYNOTE on my Mac to create virtual cards of different colors. I start with just 13 cards (most movies have 13 major plot elements), then expand that to over 100 until have one card for every scene. I move the cards around, revise the text on the cards, until the plot works. then I copy and paste the card contents (location and action) into my scriptwriting software, and begin to elaborate and add dialogue.

  29. Dr. Williams,

    Thank you so much for this mini-workshop! I had never heard of the Moral Premise before, but this makes so much sense to me. This is what I've been trying to find to make my stories deeper and more meaningful. I will definitely be picking up your book, for sure!

    What an eye-opening article. Thank you so much! And thank you Seekers for bringing such talented people to our awareness!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

    P.S. Julie, can't wait to get back to more of those 'mental patients'! LOL.

    And Ruthy, how do you manage to do that without instruction? Geesh!

  30. Amber asks two questions. I'll separate my answers:

    (1) Do you think it would make a story deeper and more beneficial for readers if the author were aware of an MPS for his or her story before or during the writing of the novel?


    Stan responds: Maybe. I'm more a left brain junkie so I want to start with the end in mind, and KNOW before I go that the STRUCTURE of my story is going to work. BUT, as I anecdote in chapter 4 of my book, some writers do the structure thingy instinctively. As I warn in the post, if you follow the moral premise logic too legalistically you'll end up with a perfectly structured story that is deadly and uninspired...maybe.

    I think a balance works best. Get the physical hook of our story figured out. Roughly outline it. Figure out what the MPS could be. Mull and muse it over. Change either the outline or the MPS until they seem in sync, and then write.


    Amber asks: (2) Are you more of the persuasion that good art (in this case, literary) is art that has a moral lesson readers can learn from it? Do you think all good art has to have an MPS in order to be "good"? Or does all art have a MPS whether the author/artist is aware of it (or even wants to include it) or not?


    Stan responds:

    This is a very important question. ART is the soul of a culture. If the art uplifts and redeems, even if it articulates something horrific (the consequences of evil), then it uplifts the soul of the culture. Culture is created through the repetition of public practice. Public art is part of that practice. The artist does NOT have to understand the moral premise or message behind his or her art. But doing so, at some level, gives artistic effort a better chance at being true art. No space here to quote it all, but in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2500-2503 are inspirational passages for all artists. (Search it on-line.) I'll quote one sentence that is underlined in my copy that sits next to Rodale's Synonym Finder:

    "Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man's own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God's activity in what he has crated. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man." (2501)

    In other words, if the "art" is not reflective of what in reality is good, true, and beautiful, then it ceases to be "art" -- that is, a bad, false, and ugly expression of a depraved ego.

  31. I think my mind is spinning. Great post! It felt like a college class, from my office. :) Thank you for sharing and hopefully as I mature in my writing, all these concepts will start making more sense. *grin*


  32. Hi Dr Williams:

    In analyzing the moral premise, I have two observations:

    1. the MP serves as a necessary condition for producing a successful story but it is not a sufficient condition. I see the MP as the equivalent of having enough fuel for a pilot to fly from point A to point B. If the pilot runs out of fuel before getting to his destination, it will not be a successful flight. However, having enough fuel alone still will not make a flight successful. A million others things can still go wrong. A writer still needs to know everything else about writing.

    2. I see the ‘cash value’ of the MP as providing a unifying mechanism by which all the scenes in the story can be orchestrated. That is, I see the MP as something to be implemented, in some way or other, on every page of the manuscript. It is not a theme but more like a recipe.

    BTW: I must say that I had the exact same reaction to “Petticoat Ranch” as you mentioned. I wanted Clay to find his lost Texas Ranger Badge and go out and do some serious kick-butt rangering. Indeed a little more frontier justice would have been nice! But I think this is a male thing! (And there were four little girls that played an important part in the story.)

    Speaking of petticoats, I think you’d like “Wrangler in Petticoats”: it has some really nice violence in it. (And no little girl major characters.)

    It seems to me that many books can be said to have more than one MP. I see two strong MPs in “Wrangler in Petticoats”:

    1. If you are true to yourself and allow others to be true to themselves, you will find happiness;
    But if you are not true to yourself or do not allow others to be true to themselves, you will not find happiness.

    2. If you wrongfully take from others you will come to a bad end;
    But if you give of yourself to others, you will find fulfillment.

    The author may not have intended either of these MPs. There seems to be an unwieldy degree of subjectivity in the MP formulation but then the same could be said of art.


  33. Oh my goodness, what a terrible hostess I am! Thanks to everyone for giving Stan such a warm (and early!) welcome. Sorry, but it's been one of those weeks, and this morning I simply HAD to get to the allergist for my weekly shots. Isn't ragweed the pits????

    Stan, thanks so much for visiting with us and answering questions during your busy day. I know everyone will benefit greatly from your expertise.

    And now, for our mid-morning break, may I offer some blueberry scones and piping hot chai tea. Bon appetit!

  34. Rene asks:

    How do you advise writers in creating that pivotal moment when a character begins to change inside? Are there tips for making that kind of scene interesting enough to the reader, yet also realistic for how the heart and mind truly work?


    Stan responds:

    Let me underline that you're asking (and my answer) is about the BEGINNING of the change, and not the climatic scene where the change becomes most evident and cathartic. Such fist moments are called "Moments of Grace" (MOG). All main characters should have them, perhaps SMALL moments throughout, but one BIG ONE in the middle for the protagonist. (See the post above, my blogsite, and the book for more on MOGs). Such a moment or scene is interesting and emotionally involving for the readers because you have led them, scene-by-scene, through a conflict of values where they have attempted to attain their physical goal by practicing the vice of the MPS. At the MOG something happens (usually subtly) that finally brings them over the edge and they see the error of their ways. In a redemptive story the character has an inner essence that is dying to come out and be true to the vitreous side of the moral premise, but for emotional reasons cannot. Scenes that work, therefore, are those where the character is presented with something of extreme value and close to their heart that they cannot have, or they are suddenly shown the contradiction of their ways. E.g. in the movie WHAT WOMEN WANT, Mel Gibson plays a womanizer who, at his MOG, is suddenly confronted with his daughter's desire to lose her virginity on prom night. (He hears her thoughts). He literally falls to the floor with such a realization, and he begins to change. The trick, is to dangle a carrot in front of the character but not let them have it, because of their stubbornness to accept the truth. If you've already primed them, in scenes earlier, with what that truth is, they'll come naturally to their senses. Unless you're writing a tragedy, in which case they reject the truth, yet again.

  35. I love this...

    We have a mix of "STAN!!!"

    And several "Dr. Williams"...

    And at least one, "Dr. MP"

    I like Stan because it's solid, no nonsense and delightfully old-fashioned.

    While parts of the Moral Premise seem obvious, I think your move to take it above "obvious" and deepen the arc to the heart of the matter, like a slightly softer inner arc of a double rainbow, stands out to me.

    And if I was in California, I'd be signing up, ASAP. But I'm in upstate NY and thinking out loud here.

    So if I wanted to deepen a sweet, funny relationship between business competitors, one from a small town, one a multi-venue Northeast Region marketer, how would I go beyond the obvious of location and competition?

    What would swing that pendulum into a deeper arc?

    She's failed at love before, a little too eager to find that HEA that Disney makes a fortune on...

    And he's a well-traveled, seasoned executive not worried as much about roots as wings.

    I'd love ideas from you.


  36. Dr. Stanley Williams,

    This is an absolutely wonderful post. Thanks so much for all the information. Please enter me in your draw

  37. What? It's nearly lunch and only 30 comments?

    STAN, I found your post very interesting, insightful and brain teasing. In fact I think I'll save this in a document for future reference. It's a lot to take in, but you make a huge and valid point. And I do have a question at the end of my wordiness.

    I loved this:

    "Mental decisions lead to physical consequences."

    "And then recognize that you cannot have a character take some physical action without it being motivated by a value in the mind. Let me say it again, all physical CONSEQUENCES that your characters experience is based on a mental decision based on some combination of psychological VALUES."

    This is a huge help to me right now. I'm dealing with a situation in my current novel of how my heroine would realistically act in her situation. It basically hinges on a decision to allow or not allow fear to continue to rule her life. While there are consequences to what has happened to her, she responds to it according to the decision she makes. I really needed this.

    I'm trying to pinpoint what my MPS is. The most obvious thing the characters are dealing with is pain of betrayal and living in fear of possible future pain verses learning to trust God in all circumstances. The pain and fear of trusting leads to self-doubt and isolation, and in this case, even slavery to another. But learning and choosing to trust God no matter the cost brings freedom, peace, community and love in the end. Does that make sense? Is that too much? How do I pare it down?


    lr. mullin at live. com

    PS I realize after this long post that there may be more than 30 comments. LOL

  38. Wow, a very intense and informative post. I wish I had been aware of this when I was in college!


  39. Thanks for that detailed answer to my question! I see that "dangling the carrot" to lead the reader to the protagonist's inner moment of grace is a key concept. And now I know I need to put this book on my wish list!

  40. Stan, I really love thinking about human creativity in terms of our reflecting our Creator. Your quote from the Catechism is beautiful.

    I'm much more conscious now at the onset of a new book about thinking through the MP. In fact, I have a section in my Novel Planning Workbook (Excel spreadsheets) for working out the MP and MOG details. Haven't been completely successful with getting it right the first time, though, but just seeing those prompts and empty cells staring at me gets the brain working.

  41. Welcome to Seekerville, Dr. Williams. Fascinating post! Thank you for taking the time to answer questions. Hee's mine: Do writers often revisit the same premise? Or perhaps I'm thinking of theme. Many of my stories are about forgiveness of unconditional love.



    This is not an answer to a question, but something that should be said. Not all stories written have a true and consistently applied moral premise. Such stories will NOT resonate as true to the general public or to the readers of this particular blog. There is a wide berth (and birth, I suppose) in popularity and resonance of stories that get written and published or produced. The truth of a moral premise can be varied, as can the consistency of its application to the characters, setting, and other story elements... right down to the marketing and press releases. Sales success follows directly proportional. My rule has been, if it is popular with the general public, then there is probably some truth to what is going on at a moral level. Check out my analysis of some horror movies on my moral premise blog. A true and consistently applied MPS is necessary for "success" but as Vince has pointed out, it is far from being the only thing that is required. At the same time, you can have all the skill, marketing hype, star power, and glossy covers in the world, but if the moral premise is false or poorly applied, it will always fall short of connecting with audiences, and thus sales.

  43. Stan, I pulled up the Catholic Catechism and printed off those sections and found this one:

    Truth carries the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is found in forms beyond words which touch the human heart. Before revealing through words, God revealed himself by the beauty of all creation, which is understood by children and by scientists. From creation, man can perceive "the author of beauty" (Wis 13:5). "Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness. I became enamored of her beauty."

    I love this and I think this is what I unconsciously try to present in my novels, that the simple faith and grace of a child is something every adult should aspire to....

    But I love the mention of scientific appreciation. Reading this today I remembered learning it way back in the day in somewhat simpler terms, but it makes perfect sense to me.

    Those who understand the bazillion possible variables, have a heightened appreciation for miracles, for life.

    Those who accept and delight in God's gifts unceasingly (like a child) unwittingly share that joy with others.

    Posting these on my wall too.

  44. Pepper asked:

    Do some writers do this naturally? I mean, without writing out the premise, but it's just a natural way they write?


    Yes, many, many writers write naturally like this. In chapter 4 of my book there are some profiles of writers I know that come upon the moral premise through various techniques, without ever knowing about the moral premise, per se. My book is principally for those of us who have atrophy the right lobe and can't sign our name without a ruler.

  45. I read this last night when it was posted and had something to ask. Then my Internet service went out. It returned in the last thirty minutes.

    If I understand your post correctly, then one MP underlines a story but that different characters can have different takes on the same MP.

    I also tried to come up with an MP for one of my books, but I only came up with the below and I need to develop it.

    Following one's plan leads to ruin.
    Following God's plan leads to happiness.

  46. Oh my goodness, Dr. Williams, I'm going to have to print out the comments TOO!!
    You give such thorough and wonderful answers, it's taking my right brain thinking longer to digest it. Good stuff.

    thank you so much for your wealth of knowledge, insight, and creativity.

  47. Patty asked:

    'Principles without love leads to alienation, secrets and death, but forgiveness out of love leads to inclusion and a godly, abundant life.'

    I seem to be having problems getting to a more complex MPS--do you have any suggestions to simplify that process?


    Stan responds:

    You don't want a complex MPS. You want one that is universally true and pits naturally opposing virtues and physical consequences against each other, personified in your characters.

    In the MPS above let me challenge you about a few things: (a) The term "Principles" is not the opposite value to "Forgiveness". Indeed both terms imply virtues. Now, I know where you want to go: "Principles without love" is akin to legalism, which does naturally lead to "alienation, and secrets," and in extreme cases "death." But the term Principles isn't the right word. But then again I'm not sure, for your story, that legalism is either. I'd suggest that just about anything without love leads to physical alienation. I can imagine a short story where "Potatoes without love leads to alienation: but cauliflower with love leads to starvation." (I hate cauliflower... and that's a bad MPS because alienation and starvation are not opposites.)

    (b) The second thing I want to encourage you to do is also make sure that the physical consequences are also naturally opposite. "Alienation" is the opposite of "inclusion. So far so good. But "secrets" is not the opposite of a "godly, abundant life." [e.g. Jesus kept secrets.] And death happens even to the godly, who have had an abundant life. So, adjust the words you use here, or your story, so you're dealing with opposites.

    (c) I know this is a Christian writer's group, and I'm a Christian, BUT... you'll write better stories if you try to come up with physical hooks (physical premises) and psycholoigcal problems (moral premises) that do NOT include Christian or theological terms or lingo. Here's why: Religious terms and jargon have hidden implications that are not physical. They are metaphysical. We fall back on them almost as a crutch because we think they describe something concrete, when in fact they describe things invisible and mystical. For instance the term "godly, abundant life" can be ambiguous. If you were to read the biography of some saints you might think they were godly, but you'd never think their lives were "abundant" because physically they had taken vows of extreme poverty. And there were more than a few Biblical characters that had the fear of god in them (e.g. godly) but they went around leaving a lot of blood spilled on the ground.

    This is why MPS change as we write our story. It takes a while to get the right one.

  48. Hi Dr. Williams,

    I am impressed that you read and analyzed so many Seeker books. Shows a real love for what you do.

    Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot com

  49. KC asked:

    We see continual remakes in film and television. Does this tie in somehow to your concept?


    Stan responds: The remakes and sequels you see in motion pictures is not directly tied into the same moral premise. The sequels are often tied in to a successful physical premise, or HOOK as we call it in the film industry. You can have the same hook, but a different moral premise. While the physical premise describes the explicit, or physical story, the moral premise describes the marriage of the physical story spine with the psychological spine.

    Yes, writing is very much work.

  50. Did Dr. Stan just talk about potatoes and cauliflower??? I think he's been hanging around the Seekerville buffet table a bit too long! Is it lunchtime on the west coast?

    Great advice about avoiding theological terms in a MPS! I agree that as writers we have a much better chance of connecting with more readers if we base our stories on universally accepted truths and let the faith aspects play out naturally as our characters grow and change. A character's faith may be his/her strongest influence for change, but even with the implicit eternal blessings, the tangible result is going to be a better life (physically, emotionally, or both) in the here and now.

  51. Kirsten asked:
    Does it enhance a story if an author knows their moral premise and pivotal moment before writing, or does this come naturally to some? I know that in my current projects I wasn’t aware of the characters’ pivotal moments until going through the editing process.


    See my previous answer, here shortened. I have to plot out every scene before I can write. Others come by it naturally. I think a mix of the two works best. If you must write it first (so you can see "what's in the bill" -- to quote a politician), I suggest you take time between drafts to crate a MPS and ensure that your story is truly about one thing and that the conflict of values is natural and universal. See chapter 4 of my book.

  52. Vince wrote:

    "The ‘cash value’ of the MP as providing a unifying mechanism by which all the scenes in the story can be orchestrated. That is, I see the MP as something to be implemented, in some way or other, on every page of the manuscript. It is not a theme but more like a recipe."

    Stan responds. Yes I think that's a good description, Vince. I do think of it more as a structural recipe.


    Vince said: "Many books can be said to have more than one MP."

    Stan responds: Yes, that is true. Especially, novels which can be much longer and richer than movies -- which can also have more than one MP. But when there are more than one MPS you may find them nesting, one within the other conceptually.


    Vince said: There seems to be an unwieldily degree of subjectivity in the MP formulation, but then the same could e said of art.

    Stan responds: I can see where "subjectivity" seems to be a part of the MPS, but only in a limited way -- and that's in the selection of the actual terms that are used. There's very little subjectivity in the conceptual truths the MPS describes. The MPS must accurately describe what is written. When the story takes on a subjective point of view the MPS will be more subjective as well.

  53. I should have known what we were in for letting Vince and Stan start a conversation with each other! Two philosophical types--oh my!

    For anyone new to the concept of MPS, don't be intimidated! Something from Stan's book that has helped me a lot is his virtue-vice pairing--a list of commonly accepted virtues paired with their opposite vices. It's a good place to start when putting together your MPS, or even when attempting to analyze books and movies for the underlying MP.

  54. When do you come up with the moral premise? Is it something you have planned out from the very beginning of the writing, or something you can flesh out in the process?

    Great information.

    Jodie Wolfe

  55. Oh my goodness. I was plowing through post after post so I could finish blogging and go on to other things. This discourse on the moral premise stopped me in my tracks. I've been wondering about this topic as I've heard more and more about it. This was a fantastic post, absolutely a keeper.

    My question is the same as Jodie's, especially when you don't have the entire novel planned out in advance. Can the moral premise unfold during the writing?

  56. Oops, forgot the email addy:


  57. Many thanks for the fantastic teaching.

    Am I right in thinking that if I have an MPS for my book, the subplots will follow the same MPS as the main plot? That will certainly make it easier to develop and weave in subplots.

    Best wishes

    Ruth Ann

  58. Dr. Williams, thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge.

    This truly is an all day workshop.

    I have your book and am reading it.

    It really helps to see it applied here. And glad you are a Michael Hauge fan as well.

  59. Wow. I'll have to star this to read again later...

    carol at carolmoncado dot com

  60. Wow, a lot of good information as well as examples to clarify. Definitely printing this out when I'm home to read over later. Thanks for taking the the time to post here today. Very helpful in restructuring my thinking and planning process.


  61. This comment has been removed by the author.

  62. Thanks so much, Dr. Williams, for sharing your insights on this topic.

    I'm also a client of Natasha Kern's, and at her recommendation read your book, sharing it with my son, who is a film student at Ithaca College.

    As a writer, I don't plot the stories — well, I do, but the effort is pointless — and so consciously working a MPS into my novels is always difficult. I concluded at one point that my novels had no such thing, but was told by Natasha and my son, who reads my books, that I am wrong. So if it gets in there, it's sneaking in.

    I find myself better able to focus on a MPS when I'm revising, but most of the time I'm only clear about what that statement is when I'm done with the book.

    I wish I could have greater conscious control over these principles while I'm writing.

    I'm passing the link to my son, because I'm sure he would love to read this and chat with you. However, he is filming today, so it's unlikely he'll be able to make it.

  63. Fascinating blog!

    Mary M

  64. Ruthy wants to know:

    So if I wanted to deepen a sweet, funny relationship between business competitors, one from a small town, one a multi-venue Northeast Region marketer, how would I go beyond the obvious of location and competition?

    Stan responds:

    A conflict of values that isn't fatal but empathetic. When people go through strenuous physical adventures together there is physical stress. Part of that stress is the result of differing moral values as the parties work through what to do, when, and how. Such situations are laced with moral judgments, decisions, and the resulting action. There is nothing like suffering and trials to bring out the true essence of individuals (and characters). When the parties come out the other side they know each other on an intimate level that they would not know otherwise.

    In Romantic Comedies, and certainly some of your books the characters begin with goals which are based on moral values. But there are other physical goals that challenge those same values. Thus a man and woman want to get married, but the man is intent on moving to Europe (because of another value he has) and the woman won't leave Hannibal, MO. That conflict, which may actually separate them for a time, when worked out, may result in the discovery that some values are more important than others. The "battle" results in intimacy about the values of the others, and it is on such values that real relationships are founded.

  65. I am so sorry to be late to this party! Just too busy to come. I was THRILLED to discover THe Moral Premise and Stan's work because I have been pondering these things and teaching workshops about this for at least 15 years but Stan has provided a blueprint for working with the moral premise that is far clearer than what I had developed! I have recommended his book to all of my clients and workshop attendees and am so glad to see him here on Seekerville. THANKS STAN!!
    One comment I would like to make is that it is important for writers to be true to their gifts and write in whatever way works for them. Maybe it is a good idea to know what the premise is at the beginning but "pantsers" never do and the majority of romance writers are pantsers whereas most mystery writers are 'plotters" and work on a more left brain plot of clues and red-herrings. Some writers write in a linear way and others in pieces. You have to trust the story God has laid on your heart, how your characters will move through the plot, and how the outcome will evolve. Don't use this to second guess yourself!!! Knowing the premise, however, will help you to see, perhaps in the revision process how the structure works and why, how ALL the plot elements and characters are bound to this one thing and why this is emotionally as well as intellectually and spiritually satisfying and uplifting for the reader. And as you understand this on a mental level, your creative subconscious will start to absorb it -- because this is the essence of storytelling going back to Biblical parables or Native American tales or Aesop's fables-- they are about something. Like the Hero's Journey these are templates for human experience and what matters to us and that is why it works.

    There is a way to know what 'premise' works best for your stories-- it is almost invariably tied to what has happened in your life and the 'lessons' you have struggled with or learned. Because you have experienced this struggle and'aha' that is God-given you can share it with others-- or as Robin Lee Hatcher says: God doesn't waste a hurt. This is one way he works through you in often surprising ways so there is a surrender involved in this and not just an attempt to control the story. Natasha

  66. This is great information! Would you consider Moral Premise the same thing as High Concept?

    I believe my books have had an MP, but putting it into words has been hard. Thanks for helping me to understand this.

    fictionfan1 [at] cox [dot] net

  67. Natasha,

    Good to see you made it. I have tried to tell everyone what you just wrote. Chapter 4 of my book does it, too. Thank you for a good exclamation point about "pantsters". Never heard that term before, but it's part of my vocabulary now. Blessings.

  68. I want to first thank Stan for coming to Seekerville. I’m so sorry to be late to the party but just to many urgencies today. And even more, I want to thank Stan for writing this book which I have recommended to all of my clients and workshop attendees. I have been pondering the moral premise myself for many years probably triggered by the work of Lajos Egri and have been teaching about it for at least fifteen years—so I was THRILLED to find there was a book that explored and encapsulated this important concept better than anything I had done.

    I also want to comment on the question about whether you need to know the MP before writing a book. It is very important to trust the writing process that works for you. The many writers who are “pantsers” will have no idea what it is because they have no idea what their story is either until they are well into writing it. Most romance writers are pantsers because the story lies in the emotional issues and dialogue. “Plotters” and often mystery writers are plotters come from a more mental left-brain perspective and often know clues or red-herrints or have little dioramas of rooms so they know Mr Mustard was in the den while Miss Scarlett was in the kitchen with the knife. Some writers write in a linear way, others in chunks, or different scenes. Trust that and don’t use MP to second guess yourself or what you are doing. That really can lead to writers block! Part of writing is surrendering to the story God has laid on your heart and listening for that. It is not a recipe for trying to control everything. This is the truth of story telling going back to Biblical parables, Aesop’s Fables or Native American stories because it is the essence of being human, being tempted, overcoming life’s challenges. When the basic human issues and truths are embodied in stories, readers relate to that. There are some ways of knowing what premise works best for you—and often writers (like say Danielle Steel) will work with one premise in dozens of different ways throughout their career. I’m going to teach this myself as I believe it is another key to success. In general, you can look at your life and consider what you have learned from trials and challenges you have faced. Invariably, this hard won insight and God-given spiritual growth is what you have to give others. Or as Robin Lee Hatcher says: God doesn’t waste a hurt. That is why ‘sitting at typewriter and opening a vein’ is a way of reaching readers because it means the writer is being authentic and giving us a piece of herself. As you understand this process and surrender to it, you will see in going back to revise that indeed the characters are all tied together in a particular struggle and the plot and subplots are related or that there is some part that simple doesn’t fit. Hemingway once congratulated Fitgerald saying how wonderful an early draft of Tender Is the Night was ‘except that absolutely wonderful part that I really loved that has to be cut out”. Like that. Natasha

  69. Hi, Natasha! Glad you could stop in! I'm especially grateful for your insights on the whole pantser/plotter dilemma. It's encouraging to know that even when we can't always initially verbalize the MP of our story, we may already understand it subconsciously.

    And I love Robin's thought that God doesn't waste a hurt. Life is just one amazing learning experience after another.

  70. Wow! Thanks, Natasha. You are so right on. And thanks to you for recommending The Moral Premise which meant all the Seekers began a buzz reading the book.

    I've always been a pantser--never a plotter. But thanks to books like The Moral Premise I am in the middle-- a Planner. And that works really well for me.

  71. Linnette writes:

    I'm trying to pinpoint what my MPS is. The most obvious thing the characters are dealing with is pain of betrayal and living in fear of possible future pain verses learning to trust God in all circumstances. The pain and fear of trusting leads to self-doubt and isolation, and in this case, even slavery to another. But learning and choosing to trust God no matter the cost brings freedom, peace, community and love in the end. Does that make sense? Is that too much? How do I pare it down?

    Stan Responds:

    Yes, you seem to have it. When you are writing actively I would not worry too much about the MPS being wordy. The more you get to know your story you can come back and revisit the MPS and see if you can focus it. Remember your readers are not likely to see the MPS, so it's a tool for you to keep everything organized and focused, it does not have to be paired down. But making it succinct is one way to ensure your story is about one thing, as long as the succinct version applies to your characters. You can change the MPS at any time, but you also have to be open to changing your story. Again, let me emphasize what's important is that the VALUES (the terms on the left of the MPS phrases) are truly opposite VALUES and not something other than values, like physical consequences. You cannot see psychological values per se, and you MUST be able to see physical consequences. Secondly, the physical consequences (the terms on the right) must be truly opposite and are related. It does no good to focus your story if the list of consequences you put in the right hand term are catch basins for different things that are happening to your characters without any cogency. I don't think you're in that category, but do try to pick terms that are universal and can apply to all your main characters in their various situations.


    As a result of today's blog and this interaction I have agreed to present a 5-hour Moral Premise PRE-conference workshop at the Sept 2011 ACFW Conference in St. Louis. That's a way off, but hopefully I'll see you all there.

  73. Forgot my e-mail address


  74. Janet Dean asked:

    Do writers often revisit the same premise? Or perhaps I'm thinking of theme. Many of my stories are about forgiveness or unconditional love.

    Stan's Response:

    If you are a genre writer (and most of you are) it is likely that you'll revisit the same or similar moral premise from story to story. But please start with a good physical hook and let the MP come naturally. Writing about forgiveness or unconditional love, (in those words) are thematic terms. Depending on your story the vice-virtue pairing could be:
    bitterness vs. forgiveness, or
    guilt vs. forgiveness. While bitterness and guilt are both opposites of forgiveness, they are not the same, and different stories, at the psychological level, would result. There are a 1,000 stories, all with remarkably different physical hooks, and they might all be about bitterness and forgiveness.

  75. Thanks, Stan! I really appreciate all the time you've given to help us out today! Wish I could attent the conference in St Louis. We just moved from Kansas City to South Carolina, so I'm a bit to far away.

    I'm copying and pasting your reply into a document so I can refer back to it. Thanks, again!

    God bless,


  76. Terrific news, Stan!!!

    Can't wait to take your class at ACFW!!!!

  77. That's great news, Dr. Williams! Just think what a head start we'll have in the early bird workshop, after your very helpful words today. You've been so generous with your time.

    Some amazing questions today!

  78. Matt asks:

    If I understand your post correctly, then one MP underlines a story but that different characters can have different takes on the same MP.

    Stan responds:

    Exactly right. My book and some posts at my blog illustrate this. It provides diversity in plot lines while unifying the story at the same time.

    In regard to the draft MPS:

    "Following one's plan leads to ruin.
    Following God's plan leads to happiness."

    ... the form is correct but "following one's plan" and "following God's plan" are not the best articulations of moral values. They're ambiguous. For one thing it's possible that the two plans are the same. Another thing is that in my 60+ years as a Christian I have met more than my share of people who disagree on what God's plan is for my life. HA!!! The values you use need to be UNIVERSAL values, ones that a non-Christian would recognize as true and good. That is how you connect to all kinds of peoople that read what you write. As I argue in another comment, you'll also do well to stay away form Christian jargon. Stick with natural law, it's the same thing without the sectarian words that have various and sundry meanings to various and sundry readers.

  79. Jodie asks:

    When do you come up with the moral premise? Is it something you have planned out from the very beginning of the writing, or something you can flesh out in the process?

    Stan responds:

    It all depends on your writing process and how your brain works. You can do either of what you mention. I think it's best to start with a fascinating physical hook (e.g. "Southern Belle falls for Himalayan Sherpa on Alaskan Cruise.") ... write out the plot or treatment, and then figure out what needs to be going on at the moral level to hold the story together. See Natasha Kern's post above for a good comment on your questions, and chapter 4 in my book.

  80. PatriciaW asks:

    My question is the same as Jodie's, especially when you don't have the entire novel planned out in advance. Can the moral premise unfold during the writing?

    Stan Responds: (See my several other posts on this topic and my response to Jodie above.) It does not matter. What matters is that you get there before you let someone read it.

  81. Ruth Ann Dell asks:

    Am I right in thinking that if I have an MPS for my book, the subplots will follow the same MPS as the main plot? That will certainly make it easier to develop and weave in subplots.

    Stan Responds:

    Absolutely right. See my book for examples. The plots and physical problems/consequences should be different for each character's sub-plot, but the moral values the characters deal with are the same. You cannot believe the way a story will resonate sub-consciously with readers when you do this.

  82. Stan!!! How exciting that you'll be at ACFW next year! I had certainly hoped the conference might be on your agenda someday but this is terrific!


  83. This comment has been removed by the author.

  84. My goodness what a wealth if information I'll have to read it again

    Tina p

  85. Natasha Kern recently recommended your excellent book to me, Dr. Williams.
    Reading it feels like "coming home"--the MPS and MOG feel natural--something I might have intuitively known but could easily hit or miss because I've never "nailed it down."
    Using film details to show what you mean is especially helpful--details I can read and reread to better digest! Thank you so much--the MPS saves much mental meandering--not only in creating but especially in editing--keeps my red pen busy!
    Cathy Gohlke

  86. I'm a HUGE fan of The Moral Premise. Thrilled to see you here. I've published five novels before reading your book, and two after. The difference between the former and the latter is obvious, not just in the final product, but in the amount of work I had to do to get there.

    I tell EVERYONE that it was the Moral Premise that brought me to the next level.

    Thank you!

  87. Thank you, Dr. Williams--I think I'm trying to make this more complicated than it really is, but then I have a tendency to do that. I'm going to print off your blog and the comments to keep alongside your book.

    Thanks again,
    Patty Hall

  88. Stan, you're coming to ACFW??? Wow, we are many, many of us ACFW attendees. I'm so glad to hear you're coming.
    I hope I can get into that workshop.

    The early bird session is often filled up fast.

  89. Natasha, thanks so much for stopping in.

    I really like your advice about writing the book and letting the moral premise occur naturally. I think many of us are doing it instinctively but to be CONSCIOUS of it can sharpen and strengthen and deepen the book.

  90. Stan!


    Next year, St. Louis! I'm looking forward to chatting with you in person. Your early bird session would be reason enough to take an early flight in.

    Oh, and bothering Julie Lessman BIG TIME would be a good reason as well.

    What a wonderful, in depth lesson this has been today. What a gracious and wise man you are, and I'm dying laughing at the thought of you going toe to toe with Vince.

    Oh my stars.

    Huge thank yous for your help, your time, your wisdom.

  91. AND VINCE....

    Didja note where Natasha mentioned that a lot of romance authors are pantsers???




    Maybe I'm not really a pantser, maybe I've just got great retentive skills without aid of paper.

    How's that, my friend?

  92. Does that mean you're COMING RUTHY????

    I'm printing this out and having it notarized. I'm pretty sure it'll hold up in a court of law.


  93. I'm so late today, but glad I could stop by. Excellent post, Stan. I think I get it!

    Loved your explanation of Seeker books!

    Thanks for being with us today.

  94. It was a great day ladies (and guys). Much fun and goodies. Now if Scotty can just fix the food transporter so I can sample all the food that's on this blog... What's that Scotty? Uh-huh. Hey what a great idea. But I don't know. Since you started hanging out with those writers on Planet Pantser they had to change the Star Trek uniform so you'd fit into it. Okay, Okay, I'll tell them. Just get your finger off that button, the last time you hiccuped I spent a month on Kondor.

    Ah, ladies (and Vince and Matt), Scotty says he might be able to have the food transporter ready for St. Louis. What'd think? Should I bring my suspenders?

  95. Vickie asks:

    Would you consider the Moral Premise the same thing as High Concept?

    Stan Responds:

    The moral premise of a story and what's referred to as "high concept" are not the same thing, although there is a relationship.

    The concept of "high concept" refers to a special type of "log line" which is a short pitch that sells the physical hook of the story to whomever you want to buy it -- agent, publisher, reader. The log line is seen and heard by customers in the marketing process, but it's first used to sell the agent, producer, director, actor, and distributor.

    The log line describes in very short form the PHYSICAL arc of the story. (e.g. She's the perennial bridesmaid until she has to stand in for a missing bride and finds herself walking down the aisle to marry a man she's never met." or "A cop from New York battles a L.A. office building full of terrorists who stand between him and his estranged wife. DIE HARD"

    A "high concept" log line is one that tells the story so dramatically that you can see the movie in an instant, e.g. "SNAKES ON A PLANE."

    The log line might hint at the underlying moral premise, but most often would not.

    So, a log line explains the physical hook of the story and hints at the ending and perhaps the psychological moral issues.

    The MPS links the universal moral conflict of the story with the physical events. Although a character might articulate a poetic form of the MPS somewhere in the story to let the audience know what the story is really about, it is almost never used directly. But the log line is used in every TV Guide ever printed.

  96. Really interesting. I was taught to pick a one word theme, and then pair it with a sentence. Not quite the two-sided moral premise, but part way there.

    valerie at valeriecomer dot com

  97. Hi RUTH:

    To quote an expert:

    “I write my books in my head first.”
    “…when I sit down to actually write a book …it's already there, in my head. I just need to coax it to paper.”
    Ruth Logan Hearne

    The above is a perfect definition of a plotter.

    Actually, I think that anyone who does not type out a twenty page outline before writing the first word of their novel feels entitled to call themselves a pantser. But that’s OK. I love pantsers. It’s the enablers I have a problem with. : )


  98. Great post and wonderful discussion today. I've got to take the time to read through all the comments over the weekend.

    Stan, you won't be disappointed with ACFW!


  99. I think to some extent, plotters do a lot of writing by their seat of their pants....
    And pansters do more plotting than maybe even they realize.

    Can we all just get along?

  100. Thanks for being on today, Stan. It was a really excellent discussion.

  101. STAN!!! What an incredible day and discussion!! Thank you SO much for guest blogging ... it's been a fun education for so many of us, and SUPER CONGRATS on the ACFW gig -- you will be AMAZING!!!


  102. Wonderful post, guys! I read The Moral Premise last year (twice!) and used it as I wrote my most recent release. I filtered every scene, every character motivation, etc... through the moral premise I'd written for Within My Heart and it really helped keep me (and my plot) focused.

    Now to read that book again! Thanks, Dr. Williams!


  103. Stan, thank you for visiting Seekerville. I learn anew every time I read something you explain.

    We appreciate your insight!


  104. Hmmm...where am I? What am I supposed to be signing up for? By the time I've gone through all Dr. Stanley Williams commeents and all the commenters comments...I have forgotten what to comment about? Whatever it is...I want it. Do I have a chance to win anything? Hmmm...could someone show me the way out of here....I'm in a maze...I'm amazed that I got this far!

    Blessings to all,
    Barb Shelton
    barbjan10 at tx dot rr dot com

  105. Hey dude, are there tips for making that kind of scene interesting enough to the reader, yet also realistic for how the heart and mind truly work?