Friday, April 8, 2011

The Moral Premise Book Mark & Check List

UPDATE: See the updated list of criteria published August 19, 2013, HERE.

The new, 14-pt. coated Moral Premise Bookmark with rounded corners and improved check list is now available. The bookmark will help you write stories and screenplays better.
If you'd like a "physical" Moral Premise Book Mark Check List (2.75" x 8.50", with 14pt UV coating on both sides), send me a No. 10 SASE to Moral Premise Book Mark, P.O. Box 29, Novi, MI  48376, and I'll send one to you, FREE.
When I travel to Hollywood to work on a film as a story consultant I don't always take as proactive an approach as I think would be welcome. Part of my holding back is the natural intimidation I experienced because: (a) I am not as familiar with the story as the producer and writers are, who have been discussing the project for months before I arrive. And (b) I'm just a bit star struck being in the same room with people I've only read about in the trades. 

Yet, when I analyze a successful film I'm amazed at the depth to which so much about the film consistently applies a true moral premise. For example, in THE BLIND SIDE each of the main characters (Michael, Leigh Anne, Michael's teachers, and Alton the drug boss) are involved in a multilayer retelling of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Each of the movie's characters test the moral premise, which is about courage and honor. That premise is made fairly explicit in the poem and in Michael's essay about the poem featured at the film's end. Such "discoveries" remind me that I need to be more proactive and bring more to the table, so that future films have the potential to entertain and enlighten audiences... and help producer's succeed at the box office... like THE BLIND SIDE has.

The book mark will thus help them and me do a better job at telling stories. Here's the check list on the back, revised April 5, 2011.

The Moral Premise Story Check List
  1. What is the conflict of values around which everything in your story revolves?
  2. What is the Protag’s main physical goal?
  3. What are the P’s secondary physical goals (e.g. personal, professional, family, and career)?
  4. How is your P morally imperfect related to each of those goals?
  5. What is P’s psychological problem (vice) that obstructs the physical goals?
  6. Toward what greater virtue or vice does the P progress?
  7. How does P show desire to change?
  8. What physical obstacles, metaphored by the psychological problem, do the characters encounter, especially the P?
  9. What story altering moral decisions does the P make at the story’s key turning points? (see other side)
  10. Do the characters’ major decisions come from the psychological motivations generated by the story’s virtue and vice?
  11. What is your story’s SINGLE Moral-Physical Premise Statement (MPPS)? Will a general audience think it’s true?
  12. Does the P’s psychological and physical arc follow the MPPS in every scene?
  13. Do all the other main characters struggle with the same MP, but in regard to their own issues?
  14. Is there a Moment of Grace (MOG) for each of the main characters?
  15. Does the P’s motivation, either side of the MOG, parallel the  the MPPS’s vice-virtue structure?
  16. How is the MP consistently applied to all other aspects of the story & movie-craft: e.g. art direction, music, songs, lens selection and position, lighting, wardrobe, blocking, marketing?
  17. Is the MP creatively but clearly stated somewhere in dialogue? Need it be?
  18. Is the truth of the MPPS tested by the characters through the story like an emotional roller coaster scene-to-scene-to-scene from beginning to end?


    Janet said...

    "Do all the other main characters struggle with the same MP, but in regard to their own issues?"

    I've just bought and read The Moral Premise and learned a huge amount from it. But I'm writing a short romance novel rather than a screenplay so would love some advice on the quote above.

    The type of romance novel I'm writing needs two main characters( hero and heroine) but there's no room for an additional significant secondary characters or antagonist. (Each acts as the other's antagonist along with the characters' psychological flaws)

    Both hero and heroine have different lessons to learn, so I'm struggling to form the vice and virtue sides of the moral premise.

    Both characters' lives are out of balance. The heroine focuses on work and has no social life, whereas the hero has made play his priority and isn't into serous relationships. (He's successful in his work so has no lesson to learn about needing to work harder)She needs to learn how to have fun while he needs to learn that fun flings won't make him happy.

    If the story was just the heroine's, then the moral premise would be easier eg 'A life totally focussed on work brings yearning and and sadness but balancing work with fun brings fulfilment and happiness.'

    But this doesn't include the hero's issues.

    Does the the moral premise in story with two main characters (who are both heading towards a happy ending)need to incorporate both arcs?--something along the lines of: 'Both an excessively serious approach to life and an excessively playful attitude lead to unhappiness, but a healthy balance between the two leads to fulfilment and happiness.'

    Often in romance novels the hero and heroine have similarly opposite flaws as the ones above such as Risk/caution/ or using others/helping others, so I'd love to be able to get the moral premise right for 2 protagonists dealing with opposite issues.

    Stan Williams said...

    Janet, see my next blog, where I'll answer your questions inbetween.