Narrative Writing


Moral Choice (1)

Happy endings often involve a moral choice (a choice between good and evil, right and wrong). The basic formula goes like this:

    1. The hero is desperate to achieve his goal.
    2. Finally, at the climax of the story, the goal is within his reach—but to seize it he must compromise his integrity. (He must do something bad or dishonest).
    3. The hero is forced to choose: Will he do something bad, in order to get what he wants? Or will he sacrifice his own happiness for the sake of someone else?
    4. The hero chooses to do the right thing (that is, to act selflessly).
    5. For a bleak moment, all appears lost; disaster seems imminent and certain.
    6. Then comes the reversal: By some unanticipated (but not illogical) twist of Fate, the hero is rewarded with the thing that he wanted, the thing that he was so nobly willing to sacrifice.

In other words: If you sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of someone else, you'll be rewarded in the end.

Do you remember Lawrence the shoe-shine boy? His hard work and his honesty were rewarded when a customer gave him a winning lottery ticket.

But using the formula outlined above, we can probably squeeze even more from that ending.

Let's imagine that Lawrence has been working his knuckles raw for more than a year, polishing boots and shoes, while saving pennies, nickels, and dimes. Finally, he has it—one hundred dollars!

As he skips to the bike store, a hundred dollars in his pocket, he witnesses a terrible accident. A carriage runs over a little girl in the street. The carriage doesn't even stop. Lawrence lifts the injured girl out of the mud and carries her to the doctor.

The doctor tells Lawrence that there's only one way to save the little girl's life. But it's going to cost $100 dollars.

This is the climax of the story—it's the moment of truth, the test of Lawrence's true character. What's he going to do? Will he sacrifice his own dream, in order to save the girl?

Lawrence digs into his pocket and hands the doctor $100.

After leaving the girl in the doctor's care, Lawrence walks aimlessly down the dark streets. His dream of owning a bike of his own has been shattered. He ends up at the river, and for hours he sits on the banks, staring at the ripples of the current. At last, one of his friends finds him.

"Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!"

You see, it turns out that everyone is talking about Lawrence and the brave thing he did to save the girl. And the girl, it turns out, is not so insignificant. She's the daughter of a rich gentleman—one of Lawrence's own customers. And when this gentleman hears news of what Lawrence has done, he buys Lawrence the best bicycle in the store—a bicycle worth far more than $100.

Now that's a happy ending!

Okay, I'll admit, it's cheesy. But even this cheesy example has possibilities. In the hands of a talented writer—who knows? It might even turn out to be a rather good story. In any case, you have to admit, this ending is far more satisfying than our first draft of this story—the version where Lawrence achieves his dream by keeping his mouth shut when a lottery ticket falls from a gentleman's jacket.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.