September 22 | Early Bird Session: The Moral Premise
Stanley Williams (right) is a joy to listen to. He’s passionate about his subject and brimming over with tips, tools, and secrets of the trade he’s eager to share. Williams, a successful Hollywood screenwriter and bestselling author, is a Christian, and his foundational Christian beliefs are the basis of The Moral Premise. Does he say that? Not in so many words. But, read the book, or attend one of his sessions, and you’ll see it for yourself.
What is the Moral Premise?
Reviews of Williams’ The Moral Premise succinctly explain what the Moral Premise is. It’s the spine of the story, the cause and effect. It’s the motive behind every action, the apple in Eve’s hand. It’s the story’s heart, the moral center, and its enduring virtues. The Moral Premise, according to Williams, makes our stories “so much wiser and nobler than we are, the storytellers,” and it “causes us to ponder our own principles, and realize that the pursuit of virtue not only leads to hope, but to a life that matters.”
Questions and answers
McCollum: What can you say to the Afictionado audience, mostly Christian-fiction writers who may have publishers or readers that won’t allow them to address certain subjects? How do Christian writers, with Christian values indelibly written in their hearts, write with the moral premise in mind?
Williams: Wrong question for a Christian audience. The moral premise doesn’t come first. And Christian writers won’t write about a false moral premise; they’ll get it right. Don’t worry about the message. Throw your characters into the most outlandish premise, such as the repentant prostitute who now works to redeem child prostitutes. Francine Rivers is an example of a Christian writer who does this. Find story hooks, like Rivers, which are physically and psychologically impossible, outlandish, and write it authentically. You need a physical hook that’s impossible to achieve, matched with a moral value in conflict.
McCollum:How does a writer present the Moral Premise [each story should have only one] delicately, while entertaining and engaging the reader?
Williams: Avoid quoting Scripture, moralizing through telling. Entertain first. We learn by experience, by having an emotional reaction that creates a memory. Jesus used parables. So write stories. Engage the audience’s emotions to get them to participate in the story intimately, emotionally. When you simulate the experience (showing), the audience identifies with the character and learns from the experience. Yes, entertainment is a trick, but a good trick, unless it’s used gratuitously.
Write your passion. Write what you know and what you are passionate about.
See Williams’s ACFW slide presentation here.