Where is the Moral Delimiter in Writing?

Most of us, if not all of us, began reading before we began writing. I remembered early on that reading was like opening a door and entering a room (a very large room) where there were no rules about what you could read. No one would slap you for reading a dirty word or describing an intimate scene (in your mind’s eye, of course). You, the reader, reserved the ultimate decision to open or close the cover. The author seemed to have carte blanche to squeeze out any idea or conversation without moral limits, except those set by the reading audience.  Even then, the writer could determine whether his or her words were meant merely for art, rather than for sales, in which case, the reader had no bearing on the writer’s content. Yet, when I closed the book and re-entered the real world, everything I said or did was guarded by the rules and moralities set forth by mother and father, society, church and the discomfort of your own conscience.

It was easy to pick out the less attractive behaviors of people in broad daylight and maintain a safe distance from their influence. But then the book cover would be opened again, and the light changed. You could see and hear and smell the in-formalities of characters operating without hesitancy in a grayer moral world invented by the author’s unfettered imagination.

The idea of a wavering, detached moral line that is drawn indiscriminately through a story, often times, clashes with my own moral code and produces a discomfort–maybe a distortion, producing a kind of reader vertigo. That said, I can often find my own hand writing more deeply and drawing out thoughts that enter from the dark door on the left leaving me to wonder whether to rewrite so as to remain above my own perceived moral delimiter or to explore the depths of a world we usually keep secret, caged and guarded.

I found that you must set the standard before you begin to write. You must know the dimensions of your morality–the width, length and depth of the code and pin it to an act of the will which travels like an acrobat on a high wire balancing imagination between the doctrines of goodness above the wire and the scandal of what lies beneath.

How do you, as writers, determine where your moral delimiter is? Do you allow the story to take you where it may or do you consciously manipulate the story so that it does not fall off the wire?

I suspect that the majority of writers use a method akin to moral relativism. If  the exterior of your plot has been pealed back to reveal a juicy interior that is an appalling or unsettling violence or intimacy, you can blame it on reality. After all, reality is not subject to morality. It is simply an outcome of events for all passersby to view or not view. This is not to say that we have not seen the sordidness of life through our own windows and that often the witnessing must be spoken of, revealed for judgment or condemnation. It is indeed a fine line, but the most important thing is that a line exist–that we know how far it wobbles and our own ability to juggle it well. An invention of reality does not reality make.

Authorship that banishes morality for the sake of titillating words and frivolities that would otherwise embarrass an audience outside the pages of your book, is a mistake that blemishes the artistry.


One thought on “Where is the Moral Delimiter in Writing?

  1. I like to read a good novel that doesn’t make me squirm in discomfort with bad words and explicit sex scenes. I assume that’s what you mean.


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