The Infodump Scene Part Last — Morality


Or I could call this — The InfoDump of Morality

This will be my last infodump post, because I’ve said it all, or enough of it to stop. No one here needs every instance of possible infodump-ery listed and suggestions of ways to avoid it. We are writers. Give us an idea and we can twist it every which way all by ourselves.  But I want to make one last (short) note on infodumps, and to me this is a biggie. Morality.

In each fantasy novel, in each fantasy world, we (the writers) incorporate the concept of morality. It may not be by intent, and, in fact, we may desire to avoid the idea of morality in our books entirely.  But it always sneaks in.

Sometimes it is the morality of religion, and we keep a handy list of “Thou Shalts” or “Thou Shalt Nots” beside us while we write. Sometimes it is the morality of a feudal-like system, or the morality of women’s rights (or lack thereof) , or the morality (the lack thereof) of slavery: sexual, racial, sweatshop, children, religion, etc. Animal rights, the right to health care, the right to food, the right to water, have all played deeply into many series and novels and have become thematic parts to the works. And we writers always, whether consciously or subconsciously,  weave in our own view of the subject. It is that weaving that is key.

David B Coe wove morality wonderfully well through all three of his series, with his Lon Tobyn Chronicles  bringing the morality of personal choice, the rights of the powerful, and the rights of what passed for religion all together in one conflict. The morality of the world was so integral to the plot and character development that separating the two would have been impossible.

Misty Massey wrote her Mad Kestrel as a strong, vibrant, powerful woman, and even without ever saying so, women’s rights, the magic-users’ rights, and the right to self-determination were huge parts of the novel and the plot and the character development. All are parts of our real life morality, and Misty’s personal, female, world-view.

Both Misty and David showed us the morality of their worlds without an infodump, which is good thing because, just as with any necessary information, the morality of our fantasy worlds must be woven in carefully, in snippets and bits, morsels and snatches, or it becomes a sermon-worthy infodump, and there is little worse than a writer preaching to a reader.

Morality is a prime example of the importance of “Show, Don’t Tell.” When we show, it becomes like the background music in a film, there but unnoticed, making a huge impact, but not shoved into our faces. In films, when the production is messed up and the music is so loud we can’t hear the dialogue, we notice and it is terribly annoying. Just so with the dos and don’ts of our worlds.

The first of the Lon Tobyn books opens with a scene that shows the reader the power wielded by the winged “mages”, and Mad Kestrel opens with a storm, a mention of a magical secret, and a woman with power. There is no opening statement about morality, it is just there, in the background, but powerful nonetheless.

We put ourselves into our novels. It’s easy for me to look back on the last 20-something books and see my own needs, wants, my view of justice, and my desire to protect the innocent on every page, in every scene. It’s a thematic undercurrent in all my books, sometimes so much so that I go overboard. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not a cop or a judge in real life. I’d be hard pressed to not pass judgment (and be wrong all too often).

Today, I’ll be taking a moment to think about my own thematic approach to morality. And what I’ll write differently in view of current events and tragedies.

What message does your work pass on to readers?






21 comments to The Infodump Scene Part Last — Morality

  • mudepoz

    *Thinks* *Lightbulb moment* That dog drool is magical!

  • TwilightHero

    What am I trying to pass on? Hmmm…

    The right to choose how we react to circumstances forced upon us. The rights of those with power, and those without, and the contrast therein. The right to express our innate skills in the manner we see fit. The need to understand how the present is shaped by the past. The desire to protect the ones we love.

    I’ve often thought of this, the way our work is an expression of ourselves. Our hopes, our fears, our bonds with others…the things that matter most. I never thought of it this way, but it makes perfect sense: how better to quantify the things that matter most than as what we think is right?

    Excellent post, Faith. It made me think 🙂

  • I think what I want to come across in my current one, esp. because it is YA, is that a person must take responsibilty for what she has done: a person can’t run from it. And second, that redemption is possible–no matter how awful what has happened seems.

  • mudepoz

    Damn. This was supposed to be deep? I like your reply Twilight hero. Aropos to nothing, apparently you can’t reply to this site on mobile mode. Or did I do something wrong?

  • That even broken things (and broken people) have value despite the opinion of Society.

  • sagablessed

    Makes me think how I want to show this in my WIP. I have the ideas, but the ‘message’ about family, forgiveness, and care of what is important needs to be refined without being preachy, A fine line to walk. This post come at a good time, Faith.
    As always, you make me think. Thank you.

  • Lovely, thought-provoking post, Faith. Thanks for the kind words about LonTobyn. I think that in the Forelands and Southlands books, I was trying to pass on the idea that with choice and freedom comes responsibility; that nothing comes for free and that when we take action, we have to be willing to accept the consequences of those actions. With the Thieftaker books, it’s that while we cannot escape our pasts or our fates, we are not bound by them, either. We are free to make the most of the moment in which we live, to look beyond bitterness or envy or vengeance and do what is right now, in this moment. Interesting and instructive to consider this stuff. Thank you.

  • Mud, of course dog drool is magical. (ick ick ick)

    Thanks, Twilight. 🙂

    Pea, I think that is a very good thematic undertone for a YA or MG book. KIds so seldome think about consequences. I know I didn’t…

    Mud, I got both comments on my end.

  • Mark, that is wonderful. Sometimes the broken can do the most good.

    Saga, I have such family issues, some buried beneath years and neglect. I find those issues appeareing in my own work. Secrets make wonderful background!

  • David, this line nearly made me weep: … while we cannot escape our pasts or our fates, we are not bound by them, either.
    Yes. That.

  • I’ve been trying to sort this out for WIP recently, so this post is perfectly timed. I want to get across the way people and events from our past affect who we are in the present, that our perspective is forged from these experiences. We can’t run from our past because the past is in is. We have to accept and understand what’s happened to us if we are going to truly change and become the person we want to be rather than the person we seem destined to become. Others can help us with this, but ultimately each individual has to make the decision whether to continue down the road the past set her on or dedicate the time and energy necessary to change the direction of her life.

  • Nathan Elberg

    You mention “thou shalt and thou shalt not” lists, and then go on to speak mostly about rights. I can’t find the quote, but I heard that Gandhi said not to speak to him about human rights, but rather about human obligations. Morality is not just about our entitlements, but what it is we have to do. This, in fact, is a very biblical approach.
    Another statement of Gandhi is also relevant, but is counter-biblical: “Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts, but by his intentions. For God alone reads our hearts.” The Jewish perspective holds that morality is reflected more by action than by thoughts. The person who thinks pious thoughts but doesn’t follow through is below the level of the person who acts properly, regardless of his thoughts. Morality is a set of obligations, and a way of being.
    And then of course we come to the problem of today’s moral relativity. Can a pedophile (for example) be considered a moral person? In a fictional murderous society, is a weak person immoral? Was Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire) a moral person? According to many historians, he saved Europe from Ottoman conquest.
    No easy answers. That’s why we write novels. Our morality info-dumps can become philosophical essays if we simply tell, rather than show.

  • Sisi, that was lovely. I agree.

    Nathan, Yes I did. This is based on my personal philosophy. I see the rules set upon us by religion and law (thou shalts and nots) as being the middle layer to a pyramid of morality. To explain: the rights we give others and claim for ourselves is on the bottom. This lower level (foundation) is a measure of both our compassion and our self-determination—our caring for others and our choices for ourselves as individuals and our society. It is here that we are alpha or beta or zed; here that we are social creatures or antisocial creatures; givers or takers. That middle layer of law or rules is the pyramid layer society sets upon us. We can try to get around it or we can chose to build upon it, depending on who we are underneath in that foundation layer. On top are intellectual constructs that our forebrains put together out of all the other stuff that is beneath. Just my way of looking at life. Others see it differently, of course.

  • Razziecat

    Hmmm…These themes are still emerging in my WIP, but I’d say that one of the biggest is my belief that morality cannot be forced upon one; that moral values can be learned, but the moment you shove them down someone’s throat, you lose all moral standing and defeat your own purpose. I also try to keep in mind that what we see as good and right and natural (aka “god’s will” or universal goodness, etc.) changes throughout human history (for ex., slavery was believed by many to be acceptable and even divinely sanctioned). And one other that bubbles up in much of my work: Power given to an individual does not give them the right to rule; rather, it gives them the obligation to serve, and if necessary to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.

  • Razzie I totally agree. Morality is completely personal, deeply personal. Force NEVER works. Thanks for saying that.

  • Coming to this late in the day, after spending a lot of time looking at a WIP with major morality issues… As with many others here, I focus on the notion that actions have consequences, but I think of that as *re*ality, more than *mor*ality. One of my recurring themes is the obligation to speak truth to power. (Oddly, though, that’s not the theme that has stymied me for most of today!)

  • quillet

    I’ve loved this info-dump series, Faith. This last one is really fascinating, because I never thought of a morality info-dump before. I always just called it “preaching” — but you’re right: when a story starts preaching, it ~is~ an info-dump of the author’s beliefs. Which always makes me want to hurl books at walls, even if I happen to agree with those beliefs.

    One of the messages I’m trying to pass on in my work (by weaving throughout and not dumping, hopefully!) is that revenge-seeking is horribly destructive, not only physically but on every level, and for everyone involved. (Not very Hollywood, I know.)

  • Great series, Faith, and I especially liked this one.

    I think we, as writers, have no choice but to share some of our own personal truths when we write. It isn’t, however, our job to convert others’ to our truths. Our job is to entertain, and maybe, occasionally, we might open doors’ in our readers’ minds that allow them to see their own truths in a different light.

  • I’d like to think that my YA fantasy passes on the message to teens about being true to one’s self, but also about doing the “right thing” out of choice rather than obligation.

    Thanks for your advice last week, btw. I took that last chapter and made it less infodump-y/epilogue-y and more action-y. It feels much better now. 😀

  • Mindy, Speaking truth to power is painful, and most often results in negative consequences — which must be a hard reality to share, especially to young readers, who may want to see good results coming from good intentions, rather than suffering for doing the right thing.

    Quillet, I totally agree. I want to toss books too, and find it hard to read any book where the beliefs of others (no matter how different or similar to my own) are either championed or condemed. We need to show, not tell. My novels should never become bully-pulpits.

  • Thank you, Lyn. Yes, exactly. If I am writing for the religious market, that is one thing. But writing for the secular market means I need to keep a perspective that is fair to other beliefs (or lack thereof) and separate.

    I am editing and adding this part. I used to read a thriller writer who was an avowed atheist. Her characters *all* made fun of anyone who believed anything. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, *any* belief system came under fire and the practitioners of the religions were portrayed as stupid, with a total lack of intellect. While I wasn’t bothered by her lack of belief, the way she put down others was a form of prejudice. If she had put down people of a different skin tone or ethnicity she would have never been published, but her prejudice against belief systems was okay, I suppose. I stopped reading her.

    Laura, I am glad it helped. Kind comments like that make my day.