Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And the moral of the story is?

So I've been lurking around on agent pages- Heaven knows why, I don't have anything even vaguely resembling a publishable manuscript- and something that comes up every once in a while is "I don't want a story with morals."

Er, hello?

On the best of days, this is mildly amusing. Otherwise it's annoying as hell.

Why don't they say what they mean?

Which is this: I don't want a book that preaches.

You wouldn't go to the grocery store looking for a new television set, would you? You'd head over to your local electronics place. In the same way, if you wanted to be preached at, you'd call up your preacher or go sit in a political meeting.

A book is first and foremost concerned with story.

But to say that a book shouldn't have morals is a blatant misrepresentation. Even if we ignore the fact that stories started out specifically as tools to teach morals. Even if we pretend that the us vs. them theme doesn't exist in almost all stories. We can't deny that some stories with morals are hot commodities.

1. TWILIGHT - Do I have to state the obvious? Bella throws herself at her "teenage" virgin boyfriend for all of 3 books and part of a fourth. And he refuses her until she's married. It's one of the oldest morals in the book. Literally.
(End Spoiler)

2. THE HUNGER GAMES - Even without reading the books, the commentary on war and government is obvious. There are also passing jabs at plastic surgery and capitalism.

3. PERSONAL DEMONS (Lisa Desrochers) - This book came out yesterday so you may not have read it yet. But an angel and demon fighting over a soul? Even Stevie Wonder can see them morals.

4. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA - These are widely reputed to be an allegory of the return of Jesus. Maybe, maybe not. But there's no denying the good vs evil thread. Infact...

5. Pretty much every fantasy tale ever written - I'm trying to think of a fantasy that's not all about loyalty to your friends, ignoring temptations, vanquishing evil, you know typical moral stuff. I can't come up with a single one.

The only one on this list that's not a hit of immesurable proportions (yet) is PERSONAL DEMONS. Clearly morals are sizzling stuff. But just like anything else, you can't just scream them, they need to be woven into the story. Humans are essentially moral creatures anyhow. And while we don't want our books telling us what to do, many of us like it when they make us think about it.

What do you think? Morals or no?


Anonymous said...

"Even Stevie Wonder can see them morals."
That had me laughing for a few hours. ROFL.

I have to agree, I really hate "preachy" books. It's the story that counts.

Sarah Enni said...

"Even Stevie Wonder can see them morals." LOLOL.

I agree with you -- morals are the backbone of most stories, agents just don't want the morals to outshine the stories. Having the character reflect on their decision more than actually enacting their decision is tedious.

Marsha Sigman said...

Exactly! When you write a story that has a hero and villain, which all of them do to some extent, then it's hard not to have a moral in there somewhere but it should NOT be the focus of the story. It should be like a gentle subliminal

Christ is Write. said...

I agree! Storytelling involves morals. Period. That is kind of strange that agents would want non-moral manuscripts. What about famous Nicholas Sparks novel's... don't each of them have some kind of hidden lesson in the theme? Honestly, I'm not sure if I could think up a novel that doesn't involve a moral. Or maybe I could, but the stories I read that don't give you something to think about are the less-intriguing ones.

I guess some people like to stay absolutely clear of feeling as if they're being preached to.

Great post =)


Natalie Aguirre said...

I don't disagree but I think kids don't want preachy books. It's got to be subtle. Great post.

Alleged Author said...

I know a lot of children's book agents do not want preachy books. However, I have no problem with preaching if it is done in a subtle way. If it is done incorrectly then even a teenager won't read it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I see nothing wrong with morals in a story. I certainly couldn't write something that was completely immoral.