And the Moral of the Story Is…

Recently I read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, founder and president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. He wrote at great length about the importance of theme in writing, and he made this unequivocal statement:

Novels are moral. In fact, all stories convey society’s underlying values…

I gave that statement a lot of thought. At some levels, I fully agree that novels are moral statements, or maybe my thinking is that novels should be moral statements. I’m not sure if they are, and if they are, I’m not too sure what many of today’s novels are saying about our society and its underlying values.

When I was a schoolgirl, stories certainly did have morals. Those morals were short, sweet, to the point, and generally useful.  Remember Aesop’s Fables? The Hare and the Tortoise taught us that “slow and steady wins the race”. From A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, we learned that appearances are sometimes deceiving.

The Tortoise and the Hare - Project Gutenberg ...

The Tortoise and the Hare – Project Gutenberg

It was easy, really, to read a fable and summarize the “moral of the story” in few pithy words.

I remember, too, a giant book of 365 “bedtime stories” — which were really nothing more than cleverly-disguised lessons on proper behavior. One story illustrated the old adage that “haste makes waste”, and another touted the moral message that “it’s better to give than to receive.”

Think of all the morals we’ve learned in our lifetimes!

As children, we needed to hear those messages, and they serve us well as adults.

But now that we’re all grown up, are we still in need of morals in the stories we read? Do we seek out books that reflect our own moral beliefs? Or do we look for stories with messages that make us uncomfortable and which challenge our thinking?

As a romance writer, I can easily answer that question for myself. I know what messages I hope to convey in the love stories I write. My hope is that through my stories, I can inspire people to be more loving, more accepting, more tolerant, and more forgiving. I hope to make readers laugh now and then, maybe shed a tear or two, and come away from a story feeling that life is good, and that love makes life even better.

The stories I write are decidedly old-fashioned. So am I. Although many of my romance novels do have “steamy” sex scenes, they are still, at heart, romance novels, stories of love, affection, caring, trust, and respect.

My characters are generally “nice”…maybe a bit snarky at times, but basically they’re decent men and women who try to live good lives. They may bend the rules at times, or even break them, but for the most part they adhere to very traditional moral values. They believe in the virtues of home and family, the women hope to marry and have children, and the men believe it’s important to provide security and stability for those they love.

Achieving these objectives is often a struggle for my characters because a romance novel — like life — is filled with conflicts and dilemmas. My characters must make difficult choices; they must face problems, obstacles, and challenges. In the end, even though they may not always get what they want, they get what they need. They’ve learned lessons about themselves and about life, and they’ve shown that they do deserve their “happily ever after”.

All right, maybe life isn’t always so neat and tidy. Maybe we don’t always get what we deserve, but I choose to believe that’s how it’s supposed to be. I want to believe that even if things occasionally seem unfair, life will, in time, right all wrongs, so long as we have love.

That’s the essential moral stance of my romance novels.

But I know, realistically, that my old-fashioned love stories and the sweeter side of love and sexuality they present, are in the minority these days. Today’s “love stories” are all about sex, sex, and more sex, and the underlying consensus seems to be “the hotter, the better”… and “the more, the better”, referring not only to sexual acts, but partners, as well.

I’m going to be honest here. Very honest. Even though many of my friends write “hot” erotic stories and fill their pages with scenes of bondage, domination, and all the rest of those kinky acts, I can’t see anything “romantic” about erotica.

I’m too old-fashioned to think anyone could find love — true, long-lasting love — in the midst of an orgy, or even as part of a menage. I don’t think real romance requires sexual fantasies, sex toys, whips, or chains.

What moral lessons do these stories have for us to learn? Do they teach us that it’s all right to break the rules of society? Do they inspire us toward greater personal freedom and sexual liberation? Is that their message? Is that their purpose?

I believe there are still readers who enjoy old-fashioned love stories, because I don’t think true love ever goes out of fashion. At the same time, I recognize that today’s “romance reader” is often looking for something very different than what I call love.

Yes, I’m sure there’s a place for both “love” and “erotica”.  I think, at heart, what bothers me is that the difference between the two has become so blurred.

What do YOU think?

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    1. Opposition in All Things | Seasons of Love
    2. Lessons in Love? | Seasons of Love

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