And the Moral of the Story is…

June 17, 2013

One thing Jenni talked about in her interview for readers was how she found a theme, or perhaps a moral, in the retelling of her fairly tales. This is possible and can be (and I am sure is by Jenni) done well. But any writer who has gone to a workshop or two will hear they need to be careful on moralizing. What is the difference between having a theme/moral and moralizing?

“Little Johnny put his hand on the stove. He pulled it away fast. Mom said, ‘Little Johnny, don’t put your hand on the stove. You could burn yourself.’ Little Johnny listened to his mom and never did that again.”

“Little Johnny looked up at the stove. He reached for the salt, but touched the burner. ‘Ouch,’ he said.”

Now, neither of these short writings are fully realized, and neither very interesting. But the first one assumes we are stupid and tells us the lesson instead of letting us figure it out for ourselves. This is very common in beginner picture book writers. I have heard a number of beginning writers say that they have a great story that will teach children not to do such-and-such. Most publishers are not looking for tales that moralize and neither are most readers. It is so much more interesting, and fun for the reader, to feel as though they are smart enough to figure out the moral for themselves. it also give the reader a chance to internalize the message.

Of course it might take the writer a little bit longer to figure out how to tell the tale without moralizing, but it will make the story so much stronger.

Is there a book you’ve put down because it was too heavy on moralizing?

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