I'd planned on doing a video blog today--a vlog?--for our book talk today, but filming did not go well. Alas, we're reading and writing today as per our usual. You're good with that, right? I thought so. So, here we are to discuss the chapter, "The Moral Point of View" in Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird. If you haven't joined our book chat before, we discuss this new classic from time to time, and you are invited to join in if you've read the book or not.
But you have to believe in your position, or nothing will be driving your work. If you don't believe in what you are saying, there is no point in your saying it. You might as well call it a day and go bowling. Anne Lamott
This is such an interesting chapter.
Talking about morals seems so old-fashioned. And preachy. If we're honest, we don't want to be either of those things. But writing from a moral position isn't being archaic or dogmatic. It's being honest, passionate, caring. I'm good with that.
I'm not suggesting that you want to be an author who tells a story in order to teach a moral or deliver a message.
There are plenty of stories around that do teach morals and deliver messages. These sorts of stories were read to us as fables and fairy tales as children. They definitely have their place. Who hasn't worried about crying wolf or touching a tar baby? Contemporary equivilents are--many times--memoirs: This is how I did it; I don't recommend it; go this way instead.
Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park came out when I had a junior paleontologist under my care, my son Matt. I had to read it. What a premise! What a story! Until Crichton stops to explain what he wants his readers to "get" out of the book. It was like being thumped over the head with an apatosaurus bone. I didn't like the Left Behind series for the same reason. Too much explanation! The premise was there. Moral dilemma abounded. And readers, however affirmed they felt, were robbed of the power of story. We must expect our readers to step willingly into our shoes to see how we view the world's machinations. And grow or not.
As we live, we begin to discover what helps in life and what hurts, and our characters act this out dramatically. This is moral material.
In my first book, Like a Watered Garden, the heroine is suffocating under grief. And yet she has a son depending on her to do motherlike things. Enter my belief that what helps in life is to do the things that are right and justified before I feel like doing them, and, sometimes, my heart follows. So, in the story, Mibby prepares microwaved lasagna and shakes salad out of a bag for her son. One foot in front of the other. This is moral material.
When a more or less ordinary character, someone who is both kind and self-serving, somehow finds that place within where he or she is still capable of courage and goodness, we get to see something true that we long for.
Yes, yes, YES! As Lamott mentions in this chapter, we already know that the sky has fallen. We don't need anymore Henny Pennys. What we need to see is how people care for one another among all the broken pieces.
I just finished a junior fiction book, Crunch by Leslie Connor. The United States has run out of fuel for cars, so there is a huge demand for bicycles and bicycle repair. No problem, our hero and his family own the Bike Barn. There is one problem, maybe two: The parents are stuck hundreds of miles away and five siblings must take care of each other and the shop. Connor wrote out of moral certainty that families who are nurtured to care for one another in good times will fare better in bad. I was all teary-eyed when the parents returned and so very pleased at how the kids conducted themselves. Very reassuring.
So moral position is not a message. A moral position is a passionate caring inside you.
Here are some examples:
In The Help, Kathryn Stockett is morally certain that the black maids are worthy of love, respect, and a voice.
In Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks is morally certain that a classic education should empower equally.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee is morally certain that justice should be attainable for all.
In my latest, Seeing Things, I wrote with moral certainty that our faith is most eloquently voiced by surrender.
Christians write from a very strong moral center, and I'm not talking about writing against certain behaviors. I'm talking about the Christ follower so intimately knowing him and being known by him that s/he can't help but write passionately about redemption, forgiveness, and unconditional love--sometimes using those words and sometimes not.
What passionate caring do you write from? What examples of moral certainty have you gleaned from recent reads? What obstacles do you anticipate to writing from your passionate caring? Let's not be catty, but who does this badly?