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Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Moral Question (and Answerr)

What is the moral question of your graphic novel story? What are you, as the writer, trying to answer?

Life is filled with questions. We wonder why the American Dream seems to be tainted. We wonder why our parents sometimes don't treat us like adults. We wonder why a number of celebrities do foolish things. And we wonder, with much perturbation, why a nineteen year-old would decide to gun down innocent civilians in an Omaha mall.

We ask questions to understand, and thereafter compare it with our views. Morality is about knowing the difference between what's good and what's evil. However, on a cultural, social, theological, and political level, my view of good can be another person's view of evil.

And herein lies the power of a well-written story. It has the potential, when written well, to present a compelling point of view. That nothing is black and white, and sometimes even the most evil acts are motivated by a person's desire to do the opposite.

Stories traditionally existed to educate. That's what the fables and the bard's tales were there for. While there are those who have written stories primarily to entertain, the best stories are the ones that endured. And these stories provided lessons to learn, points to ponder upon and issues to talk about, whether they be laugh-out-loud comedies or the most searing dramas.

It's a "what would you do" proposition, one strong enough to challenge a reader's sense of morals and values. Stories do this by placing a pawn, the lead character, to go through the hassle. By the story's climax, the writer makes a decision that the character acts out, and that decision has to be a convincing one. Not exactly the right one, but a convincing one. It's telling a reader, this is what this character would do. Do you, reader, feel it's justified? Would you do the same thing?

The moral question doesn't have to be life-threatening. Even the case of falling in love with your best friend's wife is a strong moral issue, because many people struggle with it everyday. A kid's moral issue could be about running away from home and abandoning school. Moral questions don't have to be dramatic, either--sitcoms have moral questions thrown in, too.

Now what if you want to do a straightforward action-adventure graphic novel and not bother with moral issues? That's fine. No bones about that. It's really about what your objective as a storyteller is. But do remember that stories involve human beings (or creatures with human attributes), and by definition alone they have to act human. That means they have their own worries, anxieties, and fears. If they don't, then you might be accused of casting cardboard instead of flesh and blood.

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