A moral perspective – explained

Circle of Misse and Chateau d'OrionYesterday I posed a question – or several questions – around the theme of ‘to tell or not to tell’ and whether people have ‘a right to know’.  As I’d hoped, it generated some interesting and thoughtful responses.

Themes took a while to emerge from early drafts of my debut novel, Singled Out. I know this isn’t unusual, that themes often take some time to show themselves.  We know what kind of story we want to write, but it isn’t until the characters take hold of the action, that the themes offer themselves up. I held my breath and eventually they came out from the shadows.

One theme, and the reason for yesterday’s post is – yes, you guessed: To tell or not to tell.

Perversely (sorry about this) I can’t tell you much about the scenario, and I’m obviously not going to give away the plot.  However, the views expressed in the comments on yesterday’s post reflected some of my own thought processes as I wrote Singled Out, and they inform the moral and values-driven dilemmas my protagonist faces as the story unfolds.

Is it right to be open and upfront, whatever the potential cost?  Or is it ever better to withhold and leave someone in (blissful) ignorance?  Rigid morality makes for a black or white choice, where there are in reality – as all the responses articulated – multiple shades of grey, and many considerations which interweave and serve to confuse the picture.

I just hope it makes for a compelling story.  And maybe even an interesting set of back-of-the-book book club discussion topics.

If you’re writing a novel, how are you handling the issue of identifying theme(s)?  Did you start with a theme and work your story up around it?  Or did you, as I did, pile all the elements of your story – plot, characters, dilemmas, challenges and so on – into a sieve and keep on shaking it until the themes fell out?

14 thoughts on “A moral perspective – explained

  1. I don’t have it written down, but I know approximately what it’ll be. My current theme is love conquers all and faith can accomplish miraculous things. Those themes became refined after the story was complete, and there were a few more added. Awesome to know what it was for 🙂

    1. I found the question of themes quite hard to nail down, and it has taken me a while (and one or two false starts) to shake down the key elements. Thanks for sharing yours too.

  2. When I started writing my novel, there were certain themes that inspired me to write, themes that I wanted to explore during the writing process (for example, how the democratic process has changed since the end of the Cold War, where it is heading and what that means for the democratic process’s ability to deal with the big issues). The there were other themes that slowly coalesced as I wrote, themes that surfaced in the first draft and then were gradually teased into the light during the editing process (are we a sum of our memories or is there more to us than that).

    1. I like this – that you were excited to explore certain themes and wrote your story around these. My experience too, that secondary themes floated to the surface as my story firmed up. I shall be fascinated to read your novel when the time comes, Dylan. 🙂

  3. I’m glad you came clean, though I had more than an hunch as to why you wrote yesterday’s post! Although I had some of the themes of my novel in mind before I started my first draft, others emerged and sometimes overshadowed them during the writing process as plot and characters took hold of them. In subsequent drafts I culled some of the original themes and added some of the new ones that naturally emerged. Asylum and immigration remain, as does whether or not love conquers all, it can spur you on to re-examine and re-establish your life in a better way.

    1. I had to come clean, in case any of my friends thought I had found out something bad about their boyfriends or husbands and was trying to decide whether or not to tell them!! But no, it is all about the story, the story. (And the clue was in the tags too.) I like the way so many different themes emerge as the story comes together, and we can prioritise or dismiss themes by adjusting our writing. Some others which bubble around for me include first impressions, and how people aren’t always what they seem, and harnessing the power of intuition.

  4. I had no hunch that you were posing a writing question. I thought you were mulling over whether to tell a friend his or her other was cheating, a parent his or her kid was on drugs or someone’s family member that a relative was terminally ill.

    1. But if I had been, I certainly feel I was offered some very considered, wise and balanced advice, from some special and generous people. Considering readers of this blog are, by and large, strangers from across the world, I already consider myself fortunate indeed, to be part of a community with such humanity about it. The scenarios I pictured, as they appear in my story, are indeed serious ones, but insofar as they are part of the plot of my novel, they are fictional. I do hope you didn’t feel I misled you.

        1. That’s good, and I’m glad. The last thing I want is to grow such a lovely and genuine community of readers, and then spoil it all by messing with them.

          1. I guess they did. Writers – we’re a weird twisty-thinking bunch when we get going, aren’t we? But I’m not just writing for writers, so I shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone will see it my way. But you’ve made me think. I’m lining up a post on sociopaths (ahem… reference to a character in my novel) and I had the provisional title, ‘Write what you know’. I’d hate for anyone to draw conclusions from that! 🙂

    1. I like that you enjoyed. Nothing new with the book, except my second email rejection – another kind and courteous ‘don’t give up, there are plenty more agents in the sea’ response, for which I’m grateful. It renews my faith, as I had been led to expect simply to be ignored. It seems old-school values are alive and well, and I shall take that as a positive.

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