A Story’s Moral Meaning

For decades, Stanley Williams, PhD, has been helping writers in the art of storytelling.  Many of his teachings are based on his book The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, which Will Smith called “the most important tool in his tool kit.” Stan has consulted with Will and his team on over a dozen motion picture projects, which have totaled over 1 billion dollars at the worldwide box office.

Stan was my screenwriting instructor at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan (MPI). Over the years, he was supportive of my work by attending, sometimes with his lovely wife, my events and giving me advice on my first feature documentary, The Great American Family. In January of this year, I invited Stan as my first guest on my TV show. Earlier this month, he invited me as his first guest on a podcast he’s starting called, “VERISIMILITUDE, Conversations with Storytellers: How the narrative arts reveal what is good, true and beautiful.” To listen to the interview, click here To listen to the interview, click here.

We met one Saturday morning at a nearby park where, we learned, there were some renovations being done. From the start of the interview, the topic of Gone with the Wind surfaced. I read that novel at the age of nine, while living in Amman, Jordan and awaiting a visa to come with my family to the United States. The novel was in Arabic and it grabbed my interest to the point where my family had difficulty getting me to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table. I felt such a connection to the character of Scarlet O’Hara and her tribe that I didn’t want to separate from them.

Imagine a nine-year-old girl from the Middle East being able to relate to a Southern teenage girl from Georgia. The two were worlds apart, but the author’s storytelling transcended their differences through the common human traits we all have of love, fear, family, and desire. Margaret Mitchell knew how to tell a story, and won the hearts of many people with her storytelling abilities. She took readers on a journey and, despite the trials the characters faced, she didn’t let us feel hopeless.

What I didn’t realize then is that the story also formed a foundation for the type of woman I looked up to. Scarlet was a confident girl who didn’t let her tribe’s limiting beliefs, criticism, or her gender to stand in the way of what she wanted. Her courage helped her pursue her dreams as well as defend her home. Also what I didn’t realize was that Atlanta, Georgia in the 1800s was not Detroit, Michigan in the 1980s. I was disappointed not to see the horse carriages and puffy dresses in the streets as we drove through the highway to our new home in the suburbs.

Picture With Stan2

I believe that artists, whether they’re writers, filmmakers, or painters, have a responsibility to society, to unearth the truth of things but also to help shift consciousness. We see with our brains and our perception, not our eyes, and so, whether we know it or not, the words and images that we use, and the actions we participate in, have a great impact in the world.  

In his book, The Moral Premise, Stan writes,“A Moral Premise describes a story’s moral meaning. The moral meaning of messages is the cornerstone of historical and popular narrative and is the reason stories, in general, are so important to us as human beings… Whether we look at the novel, television, or film, moral messages are everywhere. For instance, A Time to Kill, as a book and as a film, is about how ‘faithfulness leads to justice for both the innocent and the guilty’ or how ‘unjust hatred leads to a just death.’”

I try, through my writing, to infuse my stories with love, life, culture, humor, and authentic people who make my real world interesting. Some of my role models, Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, Henry James, and Lynn V. Andrews, have this romance with their stories give us timeless lovers, heroines and cunning social satire.  

Link to Stan interviewing me on his new podcast

Below is the half-hour interview with Stan (Jan 2018)

Stan’s book:

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