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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Theme Appeal and Moral Values

   
Author Topic: Theme Appeal and Moral Values
extrinsic
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The past few years I've closely studied appeal as the fourth conceptual corner of well-crafted narratives with publication potentials: appeal, voice, craft, and style (grammar and rhetoric). I've nearly consumated my studies, satisfied for today. Tomorrow is another day. Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction filled in a final piece of the puzzle. I'd read the text over the course of the past winter, studied and reflected upon the many concepts he raises, among them moral value's relation to theme.

Theme is a topic that I've gotten strong push back from writing workshops, writing teachers, literature professors, literary critics, creative writing mentors and professors, and out sojourning among the unruly World Wide Web writing discussions, ad nauseam.

Theme is a markedly different principle from a writing perspective than from a reading and analysis perspective, I push back. Similar to a degree in terms of conscious method, message, meaning, and intent literary critique analysis and location within a literary canon; however, a writer's consciousness aside, a large fraction of that analysis focuses on a lay psychoanalysis of unintended, subconscious or otherwise nonconscious motifs, maybe artistic qualities and merits; psyche intrepretation, in other words: the Psychoanalyism literary school of thought thread running throughout much of literary culture past through present.

Maturation themes, moral themes, patriotic, political, social, cultural, and religious propoganda themes: preaching. A fair portion of the literary criticism in that vein more so ironically comments on the depravity of misadjusted behaviors portrayed, glorified, and contrary to a given critics's moral values, all the while avoiding direct claims of such disapproval through condemnation using faint praise: the irony a courtly irony; polite, respectful, understated disapproving cyncism, skepticism, and sarcasm.

That's not theme from a writer's perspective; that is, how thematic motifs enhance an otherwise shallow, superficial narrative's dramatic tangible, material, concrete action. Summer blockbuster films generally have a lackluster, simplistic plot, shallow though universal theme, and visual and aural spectacle appeals. In-house underpaid hack studio script writers usually write them and the made-for-television weekend babysitter films on that channel that shall remain unamed. Narratives' writing that emulates them is likewise simplistic, lackluster, and hackneyed from short-shrift of relevant and timely theme and theme development.

Theme from a writer's perspective is what lends depth to an otherwise superficial action, that unifies the otherwise meaningless And-action into a meaningful, cohesive-whole work, that expresses directly, concretely or indirectly, abstractly a human condition, what a narrative is really about and what appeals most.

Moral values fit the bill, more often moral crises. For murder mystery who-done-its, a dead person is a moral puzzle expecting poetic justice. For a thriller, a horrifying psychological moral crisis wants satisfaction so we can feel safe from harm. A romance wants a suitably exciting and morally acceptable relationship so we can feel a meaningful relationship is probable and know it when we have one. For a Western, the lone, rugged individual wants to nobly right a moral wickeness, so we can feel we could defend a noble principle against wicked intrusions. For a science fiction, oh my, some of the former and latter, and another level of moral maturation growth commentary about science and technology's influences on culture and society. For a fantasy, again, some of the former and latter, and moral growth commentary on spiritual and cultural belief systems' influences on culture and society. For literary fiction, some of the former and latter, and among other distinctions, experimental aesthetics and structures, experimental commentary about upsetting, challenging, questioning presupposed notional moral values.

A murder is a moral crisis. A literary-vein experimental meaning-making might portray an ambivalent moral value about justifiable homicide: for self-defense, for antiviolence, for war, each a potential double standard moral value and moral crisis.

A romantic relationship that crosses notional or actual moral social boundaries, in a literary vein, experiments with meaning making. And so on regardless of genre.

I don't mean that every narrative must be a deep meaning literary genre masterpiece. I mean that theme appeals though it may not beat readers over the head, impose correction, castigation, control, or social reform preaching on unbelievers, penintents, congregation, choir, or clergy, nor nobility and aristocracy for that matter. But that theme aligns with or challenges readers' moral value systems for strong reading appeals.

Moral value systems are a core for writers' approaches to theme's narrative appeal importance and realization in a reality imitation. Poetic justice's wickedness corrected and nobleness rewarded are kernel antagonal, causal, tensional aesthetics and structural components of moral value system crises. Though no noble deed goes unpunished and at least half of wicked deeds enjoy rewards, what's noble and what's wicked vary widely, generally. The moral crisis and how it's satisfied are what matters most and appeals. The tangible though superficial action is just a container in which to package the moral crisis struggle.

Of note, for proactive unity too, an agonist as a best practice ought cause the moral crisis to begin with and satisfy the crisis to the best of her, his, its ability at great personal cost. We are our own worst influences, though trial and error are our best guides and instructors.

A challenge for packaging a moral crisis is representing a meaningful-to-readers moral struggle through suitable though not alienating artful misdirection. Take fantasy's wish-fulfillment convention, a want for personal power and control in an oppressive and commoner individual-diminishing culture. Emergent fantastical magic powers raise a powerless individual into self-realization of meaningful place and contributing social role: a moral maturation pageantry. The misdirection lays in the want for power, which power corrupts, yet managing power responsibly calls for maturation and a helping of ripe poetic justice.

How many of those above-mentioned made-for-television films portray stock amoral characters, who dramatically serve as motifs for poetic justice and to escalate antagonism, causation, and tension through horrifying, violent deaths: the promiscuous, self-centered bimbo; the selfish, superstitious fraidy cat; the musclebound narrcisist athlete, all predestined to be eaten by zonbi ivy vines: the intellectual, compassionate brunette and the self-sacrificing noble mongrel underdog survive, barely. Though stock characters one and all, red-shirts sort of, they are collective motifs representing a thematic moral crisis and message overall, that noble (socially cooperative and caring) persons survive crises and ignoble (socially misadapted and inconsiderate) persons perish, speaking of artful misdirection. Though simplistic and, to me, transparent moral value preaching, these morality pageantries appeal to their target audience, as yet unsophisticated young people and sensibilities, from their artfully packaged visceral and psychological horror thriller action-adventure and otherwise flat stock characters and thrilling though simplistic plots.

[ May 23, 2014, 04:35 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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Many of my stories, on consideration, involve ethical conflicts, including my two WOTF FInalist stories. However, I avoid moralizing or preaching like the plague, both in what I write and what I read.

Theme is essential for meaningful conflict, in my humble opinion.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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extrinsic
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Theme from a writer's perspective is indeed "essential for meaningful conflict." Theme also is a lens through which scene sequences are filtered antagonally, causally, and tensionally, as well as voice to the extent emotions and attitudes toward thematic topics are expressed, without which a narrative is bland.

Message-heavy narratives don't per se superficially preach or moralize, though may artfully package that treatment behind a surface action. Surveying the many narratives I've read, I can't think of a single one that doesn't have a moral message of some kind, no matter how disguised the message is.

I wonder if a messageless narrative literary departure would appeal. Booth, mentioned above, notes that avoiding one rhetoric invariably substitutes another rhetoric for the one denied. What might replace message rhetoric is a quandry at least as old as E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel in which Forster derogates preaching.

Perhaps a blunt portrait lacking moral judgement, poetic justice, argumentation rhetoric, and social commentary would serve. Here's Jacob Jack and Jill Bleumens' clash of moral values and coping with outside animosities played out with no winners and no losers and a satisfaction end of a respectful agreement to disagree and harmoniously coexist. One rhetoric repaces another, message more subtended but still a moral message of social cooperation at least.

I imagine a time in human history when folk faced such hardships that every person codeterminately participated for common good, though that too contains message. Codetermination is where participants exert mutual efforts for mutual outcomes. Cooperation is shared efforts for shared outcomes, Coordination is reciprocal efforts for reciprocal outcomes. Of the favorable social interactions, coordination is the normative convention; for example, voluntary manual servitude to an entity for the entity's fiscal or other benefits in exchange for living income and other benefits. Then next are contention: general firm, respectful disagreement, about efforts and outcomes; and confliction: open disagreement; confrontation: open hostilities; and conflagration: all out, no-holds-barred hostile opposition.

Message I conclude is unavoidable, though artfully implied is an ideal best practice. I think, though, that message development is a challenge often underrealized.

[ May 24, 2014, 01:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I'm going to have to think about this; I do find the subject riveting and essential to understand in order to craft stories which will resonate with readers. However, before I try and comment in depth, including my own use of theme in my writing, I wonder if this is in any way related to Lajos Egri's discourse on Premise?

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Very close to Lajos Egri's conceptualization of premise, although I disagree with several of his claims.

For example, Egri speaks of the necessity of a single premise, no more than one, the central proof a narrative sets out to argue. The filmmaker (visual performing arts drama generally) principle of high-concept and low-concept premises adopted to written word narrative theory parallels major premise and minor premise of syllogism. High-concept is the superficial action, the surface appeals, the major premise, the tangible, material concrete action. Low-concept is the subtext, the thematic depth appeals, the minor premise, the intangible, immaterial, abstract action.

An Egri premise, for example, "poverty encourages crime;" notes a premise is the argument a narrative proves. The above is a minor premise, low-concept, of the syllogism, not a complete argument and proof. Though credible and valid, that premise proof is a logical fallacy of the cum hoc; ergo, propter hoc variety: Crime comes from poverty; therefore, poverty causes crime. Testing the logic of that circular-argument claim by its negation: Crime doesn't come from wealth; therefore, wealth prevents crime. Illogical and patently false on its face; wealth does not preclude crime. The very appeal of wealth is to raise or keep one's self above squallor, exploit wealth through imposed poverty, and, of course, glutonous wealth itself is a social crime of miserly hoarding. The initial premise as theme fails its proof on its face due to lacking a necessary foreground major premise.

A major premise, high-concept, Egri does develop, though, incidental to his argument; that is, poverty's antagonizing causes and effects are manifold: accident of birth, family situation, family values and the effectiveness of family for the custodial duty of acculturating offspring toward responsible social-moral values, often short-shrifted and biased, religious values too, as the case may be, other guardian and adult and peer cohort influences, and the physical and emotional violences of poverty's blighted privation, hopelessness, and despair.

Egri also notes for that premise that successful criminal activities encourage further crime, which is valid regardless of station, an implied part of his argument claim "poverty encourages crime." What Egri does not note is that what constitutes crime is a widely variable moral value. Blighted communities tend to glorify crime as a moral virtue. Robin Hood takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Egri does note that a writer's subjective attitude of what constitutes crime and toward crime is the passion that drives the argument and its proof.

A complete major premise and minor premise argument and proof oriented around poverty, privation, and crime:

Poverty fosters privation (major premise); privation may be temporarily satisfied by criminal (antisocial) acts (minor premise); therefore, poverty encourages crime (proof).

Not one single premise, but two related premises, one a major premise, high-concept; one a minor premise, low-concept, at least, for argument claim and claim support and claim proof. These argumentation organization principles not too coincidentally parallel dramatic arts' beginning, middle, and end three-act structure and dramatic complication's want and problem argument premises and outcome satisfaction proof.

Also, Egri indirectly implies through examples how premise develops and pays off, proves an argument, one approach, through a conclusive end. Dramatic arts' syllogism art and science argumentation proof, though, begins and threads throughout a reality imitation as it unfolds, and asserts a conclusive proof as well.

Though Egri indirectly implies these above syllogism features for dramatic arts generally, I feel he is not clear, strong, and direct enough to fully unravel and prove the argument of his premise about Premise; too much shown (implied) and not enough told (explained), a plague writers writing about writing suffer.

[ May 23, 2014, 11:52 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Well, extrinsic, a thought provoking post as usual that makes me pause and think about my own journey and helps me learn a little more about the craft of storytelling. I suppose, but am willing to be corrected, that every writer employs a theme in every tale they tell whether they realise it or not. I would also imagine that most of these themes are rooted within each writer’s own value system that they have either learned ‘at their parent’s knee’ or have developed for themselves.

In thinking about the components of my own storytelling I find one common theme that seems to run through all of them. This is not to say that all of the stories are the same and that I resort to recycling characters as if I were using a template. What I mean to say is that there is a common pattern to the scale and nature of obstacles that my protagonists must overcome.

In the first instance, most of the values espoused by my protagonists reflect in some degree the Judeo-Christian values of the society I’ve spent my whole life in. I say to some degree because, like me, my characters tend, by the end of the story, not to believe in absolutes. The universe is an infinite number of shades of grey, never simply black and white. However, it would appear that in all of my stories my protagonist, initially confronted by something that offends their morality, makes a decision to ‘set things right’ and, in doing so, come to realise that they have grabbed a tiger by the ears and what seemed like a simple decision to do ‘what’s right’ they enter a world for more complex and dangerous than they realised. It also appears that most of my stories are, in fact, tragedies. Noble, in that my protagonist(s) die having fought ‘the good fight’ and changing the world for the better, but dead at the end none-the-less. Although that would be a simplistic literal view of their deaths, you can still win by dying.

I guess the thing a writer needs to be mindful of, as they either recognise a theme emerging from within their story, or they set out to deliberately develop such a theme, is the age old problem of ‘preaching’ to the reader. In my own writing I tend the let the characters actions, in the main, reveal their moral centre to the readers. A literary equivalent of a picture tells a thousand words. I show the characters acting out their morals rather than speaking about them through expositional oratory.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Those are all pertinent points for writing. One area that I feel further meditation might benefit is how an agonist proactivity begins with a firm belief in the "rightness" of a want, of the agonist's values, at least wanting to correct a wrong causes complications before satisfying the complication. Not the one only of that effort causing setbacks, and coming to an understanding of the gray shades between absolute noble right and wicked wrong--themes for middle grade literature and young adult, though less so, by the way--before winning by dying or other noble self-sacrifice. But the already moral ambiguities inherent for anyone that clash with others' convictions of what constitutes right and wrong, more so, though, interior life moral ambiguity clashes.

Dynamic character depth, and dynamic plot depth, comes from internal moral ambiguity and transformatively reconciling the ambiguity for good or ill. Otherwise, though poetic justice is popular, preaching comes out anyway, though perhaps more subtly than overt preaching.

For example, say an agonist comes upon a sexual assault by a gang of warriors in a combat theater. A moral crime today, not so everywhere and not so in ages past, the agonist is appalled and possibly another victim of the gang. Choices include ignore, defuse, corrective action, or join in.

Another witness witnesses the witness agonist and the assault. The second witness is appalled as well and unwisely ready to disrupt. The second witness betrays their cover. The agonist convinces the second witness to flee, joins the gang, though not as a participant, meanwhile defuses the situation and collects incriminating evidence for prosecution. A straightfoward conclusion (simple plot) would end with the culprits punished by lawful processes even though the agonist nobly struggles against great obstacles.

However, a mid action turn (peripeteia-reversal and anagnorisis-revelation) would portray the agonist tracked down by the second witness and convinced to exact vigilante poetic justice. A more true-to-life portrayal of how we secretly feel toward wickedness, that we want to take action ourselves and circumvent the often flawed justice system ideals of impartial justice. The two witnesses nonetheless experience tragedy and noble sacrifice--maybe romance--at least sacrifice from the realization they too are wicked to a lesser degree. In order to not objectify the assault victim, also, the victim could be an agency of the witnesses' later realization revelation, perhaps as well morally ambiguous, satisfied though horrified by the vigilante justice's punishment fitting the crime.

Still a message, though, and less yet preachy; that is, we are all wicked: let ye who is without sin cast the first stone. On the other hand, the depths of the complex plot are far more appealing, epic in that larger-than-life appeal of moral ambiguity satisfaction is a universal human condition, one we all struggle with, even in our trivial trespasses, and instead of death, noble self-sacrifice anyway, at least from eventually putting aside vengeful retribution.

E.M. Forster derogates death and wedding outcomes, too, as trite and outworn, perhaps cliché deus ex machina, noble tragedy and poetic justice comedy outcomes. This above is what I mean about artfully packaging theme, message and moral, moral values, method, and appeal combined into one gloriously persuasive narrative. Actually, that above scenario's moral ambiguity satisfaction is one of the subtler appeal features of the narratives I most enjoy and I find among the most popular and critically acclaimed of all time, present-day included.

[ May 24, 2014, 12:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Having thought about this quite a bit lately and re-reading it a number of times I have to confess that I'm not sure what I've been talking about. Not that that's something new, it's just that this particular discussion is pertinent to my current endeavour to change the way I create story milieu, story plot and character development.

So, extrinsic, as this seems to be a conversation between just the two of us feel free to take as much time as desired to respond--if at all.

I understand theme in relation to music, either as a character-centric motif in film that speaks in some way to their characteristics/demeanour/etc. Or, in the case of a symphony, and even popular music, as an underlying musical phrase or expression which ties the various movements together. After its initial introduction as a separate semi-movement it is woven quietly and harmoniously (usually, although it can be used to discordant effect) to intertwine with these other musical phrases as if it were glue. My problem is translating these interpretations into written narrative.

Here's what seems to be he problem for me; my understanding of the meaning of the word theme is getting in the way of me even being able to phrase a intelligible question about the topic at hand. I know I can have a story with a theme centered around the love between two characters that isn't a member of the love-story genre but I don't think this is what you mean by theme. Or, are you saying that theme is, in some way I'm yet to ferret out, a finer distinction of story type than using the term genre?

As you can see, I'm floundering here.

Phil.
(Theme Manic Obsessive)

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jerich100
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There is "plot" and then there is "story". The plot is what happens while the story is why it happens. The moral is part of the "story."

I've been told that every great fictional story ever written is about something meaningful beyond the plot. So I agree with you that the "moral" of the story is profoundly important.

For those of us writing stories, there had better be a moral in there somewhere.

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extrinsic
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jerich100's response is a straightforward approach to how moral relates to message and message to story depth and depth to theme, all interrelated writing principles.

They are both as simple as that and more complex, another of the never-ending double binds of writing.

This thread and Grumpy old guy struggle to clarify the complexities of those above principles and how they may be implemented. For example, above, where I discuss the depth a dramatic pivot adds to a narrative, the combat zone sexual assault, theme and moral takes on deeper dimensions from portraying the not very different morals of the two vigilante agonists from the assailiants: true to life, epic, larger-than-life.

Differences for a readership: one, that trials of that nature happen to us few and far between, if at all; two, that we want to exact poetic justice ourselves, and only rarely act on that want to that degree, with great reservation and trepidation, if at all. Our otherwise routine lives allow us little room for moral deviation and little room for taking nontrivial matters into our own hands.

The matters are ones that we can vicariously take into our own hands through reading, maybe film viewing, and not suffer the trials and struggles and real consequences ourselves. We are heroes and legends in our own minds, though we not act on and out upon them, except through our writing. We writers are guides for readers experiencing those vicarious, thrilling experiences.

"Theme," like any writing principle, is an often misunderstood principle, difficult to pin down, and widely variant to the point of regular mutually exclusive term and meanings and usage. A central meaning is shared across the land: a central subject or topic or distinctive feature, characteristic, or quality of a whole, a parent item; where motif is a child item of a theme.

A floral print garment is a floral theme. A Hawaiian floral print garment is a narrower theme. Upon the garment, hyacinths are motifs, maybe hyacinths, lillies, and poinsettias: motifs. Maybe background color schemes are a motif as well, greens or blues, maybe blacks, grays, browns, maybe other features of flora motifs, maybe features not flora, some fauna, maybe human artifacts.

Those above, though, are superficial motifs and themes. They are evocative nonetheless. They do lack for depth in a meaning sense. For that, ambivalence and its attendant ambiguity are needed. Say, idiosyncracy, an off-kilter yet theme-related motif of, say, an impressionist sailboat dancing on waves in the floral print background, repeated in the print pattern. Evocative still. "One of these things is not like the others" (Sesame Street): implication that engages minds and imaginations curious to extract meaning from an idiosyncracy. No dramatic, antagonizing event therein, though, except maybe invoking and evoking a want to be in an idyl paradise, nor character, the barest of settings: idylic tropical paradise with the added human interest of pleasure sailing.

Put that Hawaiian shirt on Dr. Gonzo attorney accompanying Raoul Duke Hunter Thompson to a Las Vegas motorcycle race and unwittingly stumble into a law enforcement drug culture convention, the fuzz all wearing dress uniforms, the ambiguities start to stack up. Dramatically, morally, thematically, motifically, and expressively.

Excessive drug use as escape and solace from life's trials, wearing a floral print theme of idylic tropical paradise. Message and moral? Face reality squarely (sic). Moral ambiguity: glorified drug culture contravenes a social wickedness of self-involved self-gratification.

Edited to add: Theme does in both simple and complex ways equate to genre. Boy meets girl, woman meets man, obviously a degree of love interest is involved, maybe romance genre overall. Simple enough from that limited perspective. However, a moral-related theme may be self-actualization. Realize the more meaningful social-moral values of adult empowerments. Empowerment rights are straightforward wants, superficial, complicating those rights wants are duties to others, community, and society overall.

Self-actualization is a subtle and common thread throughout the literary opus, theme-wise, strongly represented; genre-wise a degree universal, a category into which a large set of genres lays. In that sense a genre, though not as the term is used in literature's cultures. For writers, though, a self-actualization theme as genre makes possible writing across "genres." Science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller, western, romance, literary, and other categories: audience age, intellectual sophistication degree, subject matter, topics, events, settings, and characters agonist, antagonist, ally, nemesis, and villain.

Fully realized self-actualization struggles more with the moral duties than the privileges of rights. If a suitor, for example, objectifies a love interest, the relationship may be doomed from the start. If the suitor comes to realize the love interest as a meaningful partner with attendant personal needs and problems, values and morals, delights and joys, passions and pastimes, smarts and nerves, their relationship and them individually are self-actualized. Maybe the relationship then will be fulfilling, exciting, productive, pleasant, and enduring.

[ May 29, 2014, 05:01 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Thanks for that, extrinsic. It would appear that the main cause for my floundering about is that I'm trying to nail down something that refuses to be so neatly nailed into a specific place.

I will continue thinking about this. However, one thing I do grasp, I think, is that so many writers, when developing milieu for speculative fiction, be it sci-fi, fantasy or some other similarly related genre, completely ignore the unique morality that will have developed within, and belong to, that particular milieu. I know I have.

I have been thinking that fully developing the morals of a milieu is an essential starting point in character development. For it is moral strictures and conventions that shape society and thus mould the malleable minds of the young. And, while we are the descendents of our parents morality we are not confined by it.

Food for thought indeed.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Yes, how does a manual labor energy economy morally view laborers? As servants to the elite, from a created circular logic sense of preordained predestination entitlement backed up by force majeur of those who can afford hired enforcers' elevation above commoner laborers. High born people are naturally noble and deserve rewards and power and wealth and individual discretionary self-gratification indulgences for serving their duty to the common good to rule low born people, who are preordained predestined naturally wicked and deserve correction, control, and punishment for their accident of birth station.

Indoctrinating youths to suitable social-moral values is a main function of youth literature. For older readers, I believe a main function is to persuade adults to realize their neglected responsibilities to society, even one's writer self, though in such a manner that no one's nose is too ruthlessly rubbed in the mess nor put out of joint from such a self-righteous imposition. Or ruthlessly, as a case may be.

A large cognitive leap for me, my writing and personal growth, came with and from the realization I am empowered to develop, name, and define my own terms to my satisfaction. On top of that, though, of course, is others do so as well and as an equal right and duty, often at cross causes, or at least adopt and adapt those terms and such of others, thus creating competing consensus-reality enclaves. Navigating both my own terms and those of others has come to mean a persuasive argument. Fortunately, I have yet to have a need to invent a writing term or its defintions or uses; others came before who have already at least brought the ball onto the field.

Opinions and moral attitudes cannot easily be changed. Trump emotional resistance and change-inertia by powers of logical and rational persuasion and reward, yet emotions must be accommodated too. Gosh, writing at its root function is persuasion, right?

Case in point, I cite Aristotle, among others, as a logical and superior intellect when it comes to unchanged-across-milienia narrative drama features. Though much theory was bandied about since then, not until Gustav Freytag, an equally logical and superior intellect, was an equivalent magnitude theory developed. I cite them as substantive support bases for my own independently developed though related theories. Dramatic complication and antagonism, for examples. Though my theoretical innovations, their unrealized foundations are in Aristotle and Freytag's theories and others equally respected, "how way leads on to way" (Frost).

Building upon the accepted valid, respected, and distinguished works of others is a method, requirement actually, for such scientific advancement research and reporting. New knowledge builds on existent knowledge.

Alas, my theories may take decades or centuries to be so recognized, if ever. Meanwhile, I lively apply them to my arts.

[ May 29, 2014, 05:21 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, to thine own self be true, and damn the torpedoes.

jerich100, sorry to appear to have "blown you off" but I had my own thoughts firmly in my forebrain in my last post. Your assertion that: "The plot is what happens while the story is why it happens." is something I would expect to read in one of Sol Steins books; a truism for a tyro but woefully simplistic for anyone trying to understand the art and craft of storytelling. This isn't a criticism, I was quoting such things a year ago--but I have grown into pint-sized knee-britches now and know a little better.

To paraphrase Gustav Freytag: First there is the idea--but it must have "significance"; that is, it must relate to the human condition is some substantial way. Then there is the story--but it must have "unity of action"; I take this to mean that material extraneous to the idea should be eliminated and the focus should be solely on the central 'theme' (don't shoot me, extrinsic, it's an honest misconception) of the story. The plot, while it may chronicle the manner in which the story unfolds, is in reality a fluidic, at least in its design stage, interaction between the story and the characters (that's both the protagonist and antagonist but also includes ancillary supporting characters.)

Finally, I'll take issue with this: "For those of us writing stories, there had better be a moral in there somewhere." and simply ask, why? Can't we simply write for entertainment?

Phil.

(Feeling slightly less manic)

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extrinsic
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Right on the money, Grumpy old guy.

Gustav Freytag uses the term "significance" differently from Aristotle, at least from Samuel Henry Butcher's 1902 translation of The Poetics. Freytag uses the term as that of a magnitude of antagonism relative to humans, more than trivial, as well as in the sense Aristotle uses it to mean definite verb time tense sense, and additionally to mean a reason for an idea's relevance to humans. In argumentation, the latter is reasons for asserting a claim; for example, "poverty encourages crime." That claim's reason might be crime is wicked. My "static voice" theory derives from Aristotle's use of "significance" and other supportive sources (grammar handbooks).

Freytag does indeed discourse extensively on theme's identities, that "Unity" is the law. Freytag means metaphorically that "law" is a principle such that short-shrift of unity from "a number of dramatic efficients" (comparable to Wayne Booth and Seymour Chatman's events and existents) thematically not relating to each other confuses "spectators" (Freytag "Unity of Action").

Use of "law" in that contextual vein is an emphasis commonly used by Formalists, Structuralists, Poeticists, and Folklorists. Unfortunately, "law" used in that context confuses folk generally, because "law" means must abide generally and, consequently for some, means must violate.

Aristotle, Freytag, many poeticists generally, relate what must be expressed. Where they fall short, though imply otherwise, is that theme, per se, only filters what's given. Sure, "material extraneous to the idea should be eliminated and the focus should be solely on the central 'theme' (Grumpy old guy)."

Ironically, what Freytag and such do not discourse upon is using theme as a means to elicit the elusive missing-ness of content context and texture. Ironic that what they miss is about locating what's missing.

The juris prudence system oath (proverb) "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" illustrates beautifully missing-ness's "signficance." "The whole truth" is easily only content that is elicited by an inquisitor's direct colloquy. Overly vague inquiries draw objections from opposing counsel. Pointed inquiries pass unmolested. Thus inquistor as writer and opposing counsel as writer as auditor, what's given is only what comes out of their direction.

What's missing, where does that come from? Judge, jury, and "the people's" needs for full revelation and realization of the whole truth, which biased witnesses are prone to evade by only responding to direct, focused questions, sometimes--no, oftentimes "I do not recall" responses to incriminating questions. Context and texture questions begin and end with who, when, where, what, why, and how answered so that readers receive the perceived reality imitation reflections intended.

Conclusive, fully realized narrative leaves in what's thematically relevant, excises what's not, and locates either implied or portrayed, needed otherwise, elusive missing content.

Jerich100 is credible and valid in his assertion "For those of us writing stories, there had better be a moral in there somewhere." As you are, Grumpy old guy, in your rhetorical question assertion ". . . ask, why? Can't we simply write for entertainment?" Another writing double bind. I reconcile the dissonance by noting that including moral contextual content is unavoidable, though perhaps only taken for granted as a given, as background, or a deliberate moral ambiguity crisis as foreground, or a proportion of each anywhere between foreground and background.

[ May 29, 2014, 04:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

Finally, I'll take issue with this: "For those of us writing stories, there had better be a moral in there somewhere." and simply ask, why? Can't we simply write for entertainment?

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

I read =and= write for entertainment. I'm long past caring about themes or symbolism or moral values in fiction, despite being thoroughly trained in school to 'appreciate' them; in fact I'd rather not be be tripping over them when I read, thank you very much.

[My perverse little voice adds: "The moral of the story is: I don't want any morals in my story."]

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Grumpy old guy
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jerich100, I think I owe you an apology. After thinking about my last post, citing you, and agonising over it all day I get the feeling I may have come over like some pompous ass. That's the problem with posting late at night after a glass or two of grape juice, the personal censorship module gets the hiccups and wanders off for a while. Sorry.

Phil.

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J
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What a great discussion.

Characters in a story act a certain way not only because of immediate or efficient causes. Their reaction to events is governed by their worldview, and knowing each character's worldview (which, whether or not you like the term "moral", is of necessity at least ontological) and keeping them consistent (or, consistently incoherent, depending on the character), seems an essential part of building a round character.

We relate to characters and find meaning in their stories because the worldview implied by their actions and reactions--as extrinsic observed--either challenges, or affirms, or resonates on some level with our own worldview, whether or not we ever articulate that to ourselves.

I've come to see theme as the bridge between the worldviews implicitly but necessarily expressed through the actions and dialog of the plot, and the worldviews that may be unexamined, but are certainly held, by the reader.

In my very favorite works of fiction, like The Old Man and the Sea, or To Have and Have Not, or the Aubrey/Maturin British sail novels, that bridge exists and can be tread upon by the reader, but it's entirely underwater. It can be felt when you're feet are on it, but not observed directly or exposited.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by J:
In my very favorite works of fiction, like The Old Man and the Sea, or To Have and Have Not, or the Aubrey/Maturin British sail novels, that bridge exists and can be tread upon by the reader, but it's entirely underwater. It can be felt when you're feet are on it, but not observed directly or exposited.

Is this then a function of theme, connecting moral or worldview crises to reader association? It certainly is a function of persuasive writing, such that lecturing or preaching are "underwater" and "tread upon" though not "observed directly or exposited." An opposite of which is a capacity to see past undue persuasions of the overt rhetoric from drama's entertainments yet no less enjoy a narrative.

[ June 26, 2014, 11:17 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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