Your Why is a Truth

If you’ve been around at all this year on my blog, then you probably noticed the extremely long series of posts I did on following your heart as a writer. ๐Ÿ˜† In it, I talked about your Why: a message in your stories that inspires you to continue working on them. It’s why you push through the hard times of writing it.

That series was really about accessing your unique abilities as a writer, and so for that context, referring to this message as a Why made sense.

However, in my own writing, I don’t actually call it that.

Source

I decided while writing that series that I would need to write a post afterwards on the Why – and what I actually think of it as – because simply by changing the word, you create a whole new mentality when you’re working on the story.

If you read the title, then you can probably guess what I actually call my Why in a manuscript:

A Truth.

Truth

This is Google’s definition of truth:

It doesn’t exactly enlighten us very much. ๐Ÿ˜‚

Source

I’ll break it down for us instead:

Truth is what is true. That’s the most simple way of saying it. But if it’s true, that means other things are false. In this day and age, people constantly take what is false and think of it as truth. It can be difficult to discern where the truth really lies. But it must lie somewhere; only one thing can be true, after all. If multiple things are true, none of them really are, right? You can’t have multiple answers to the same math problem: there can only be one true answer.

Now that I have defined that, I want to challenge you to try mentally replacing the words your Why with the Truth.

Your Message

The first post I did in my series was on Your Why. I explain what it is, where it comes from, how it can help you stand out, how it can help you with the writing process, and how to come up with them.

However, something I want to spend a little more time on is the idea of what your Why/the Truth is. To do so, we need to take a look at 3 different definitions that are oftentimes used interchangeably: moral, theme, and message.

Moral

“And the moral of the story is…”

A moral. We’ve all be exposed to these: the boy who cried wolf, for example, has a moral, which is don’t lie. Most of Aesop’s fables have morals as well.

A moral is something communicated through the medium of storytelling. It’s an absolute, with no room for any other idea. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Be kind.

Source

As a child, these are good stories to hear, because they teach us things: we see those who are good and clever and kind living happily ever after, and those that are cruel and evil getting what they deserve. It creates a basis for our small minds to build our actions upon, especially as, at that time in life, we are so impressionable.

A moral is an absolute; it just is. It’s what’s right. End of discussion.

Theme

“In the novel, The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare develops the idea that…”

As you move up into high school, you start dealing with more abstract thoughts and ideas in literature. It isn’t always quite so easy to recognize what the author is trying to say through their writing, and you must learn to analyze what you read and find the theme.

Source

A theme is a thought – an idea – that deals with humanity. It can be on how people act, or what they are like sometimes. Themes are not absolute.

If you’ve ever written an essay in high school English, you probably know the format of a thesis statement: In the {format of piece}, {name of piece}, {name of author} conveys the idea that {an idea on humanity}, especially when {qualifier that makes it specific to this piece}. This theme, unlike a moral, is not an absolute; it is an idea, and in this piece in particular, it is focused on a specific situation. The author uses the story to take a stance on this theme, conveying it throughout. Pieces like the play Hamlet or the novel To Kill a Mockingbird are examples of pieces that have multiple themes playing throughout at the same time.

A theme is an idea on humanity. It is not absolute; it teaches us something.

Message

“My confidence was that of a person who knew. Nobody could ever again convince me I was a coward. It didn’t matter what anyone said, anyone thought, or anyone claimed.

“I knew what I was.”

-Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

And now we reach the final one: a message.

I think we all know what a message is: it’s something you receive from someone else who has something to tell you. This can come in the form of a voice mail, an email, a text, a letter…

Or in art.

For our purposes, let’s focus on books.

A message is something that is not absolute. It is also not abstract, either. It is an idea that you have to tell someone.

A message is something that can help someone. And stories are, quite literally, the best way that you can teach them it – because it is a way for you to show someone it in motion. You can show someone how it can help them by showing them the story of someone growing and benefiting from this message.

Your Why is a True Message

To bring this all together, I’m putting it that way: your Why is a True Message. It’s a truth in life that could help someone else and you’re trying to tell them it; it also will by why you push through on your hard writing days when you don’t feel like continuing or are struggling.

Here’s why the Truth in a story is a message and not a moral or a theme:

  • A moral is absolute; there’s not argument there. It’s a lesson for you to learn. The story is the vessel for that, but it does not leave room for internal conflict (which is vital to a story).
  • A theme is an idea alone; it conveys a thought on humanity, but you can ultimately draw your own conclusions on the subject.
  • A message is a beautiful meshing of both: it’s an idea, meaning that it’s abstract and multi-faceted, but it’s also a lesson. You can improve someone’s life by telling them it, and the character who must learn it in the story can go through internal conflict over it.

In my series, I talked about how you show this message based on a spectrum: your character begins at one end, and by the end has moved to the other. They begin believed the exact opposite of the Truth: a Lie.

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I personally learned to call these ideas – the Truth and the Lie – by these names from K.M. Weiland’s book Creating Character Arcs; she refers to these ideas as the character’s Truth and the Lie they believe.

I think it’s important to use these definitions, because it keeps you on track with your story. You can see the character is wrong and this is what they must learn instead. Only by knowing what is true can they benefit – because who ever benefits from a lie? Even when somebody does, it’s temporary; the truth will eventually come out, and everything will fall to pieces around their ears.

Source | A good example

At some point, I’d love to do a whole series on a character’s arc of change over a story, tied in with what the plot line would be doing at the same time. However, for the time being, I’d 10/10 recommend checking out K.M. Weiland’s book and the workbook that goes with it; I learned the foundations for writing character arcs there, and still use them with every manuscript I write.

Why You Need a Message

Have I talked about this subject before? Yes. Am I going to do it again? Absolutely.

If there is one thing you must have in a story, it’s a message. Do whatever the heck you want with the rest of it, but include that.

A Truth takes your story to the next level. Why do you think I find the definition so important? It’s something that you believe so deeply, and literally cannot live without. Imagine how many people’s lives you could improve if you told them it! But then, take it a step further: show them how their lives could be better. People don’t always listen to things, especially without proof. With a Truth coupled with a character arc, you cover both.

Including a Truth has taken my own writing to the next level – not to mention how it has caused my own life to be improved, simply b the fact that I have further developed my own love of this Truth and relied even more heavily upon it.

Look at your own life: you see where you have learned things that have improved it and changed the trajectory of it?

That is a Truth.

Now go tell the world about it.

Don’t forget to save this post for later!

To end this post, I’d like to invite you to take a look at your own story: are you writing a moral with no room for internal conflict? An ambiguous theme? A message that is a Truth? Find out what it is.

…and then make sure to subscribe! I’m working on some cool stuff, and you definitely won’t want to miss it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ 


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Character Problems: Not Making Things Personal from Day 1

The Inciting Incident: The Point of No Return… Or is it?

The One Thing All Stories Need


Do you include messages in your stories?

Have you ever read any books or seen any movies where a character changed because of something they learned over the course of the story?

And… did anyone notice this came out a day late? ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜… I had to run off to work yesterday, and refused to post this before I was totally done the edits.

Julia

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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