Curmudgeon's Corner, Ethics and Morals, writing

What or Why?

Written by Sanford Begley 

  What or Why for a title, is it confusing? Well the subject may be. The question is rooted in life, fiction, and maybe metaphysics. Gordon Dickson postulated in one of his Childe cycle books that the intent behind an action was more important than the actual action. That why you did something had further reaching consequences than the action itself. Now,  he proceeded to get all mystical in that book which may be why I cannot recall which one it was.

  I know of others who believe that both are equally valid depending on the point of view. Louis L’Amour sometimes said in his books that the men who went west to get rich and get out still built the nation we have today. At other times He denigrated his villains for being only in it for themselves. A definite non answer to the question then.

  When one is judging guilt or innocence in a trial motive is often the difference. The man who kills in self defense is not guilty, the man trying to commit robbery is guilty. I say often because the judge, the jury, the attorneys, and the state where the trial takes place all factor in as well. Everyone has heard of innocent men going to prison , everyone has heard of the guilty set free.

  I chart something of a middle course on the what or why question. I firmly believe what you do is what you should be responsible for. I also believe that extenuating circumstances may limit your choices. And a man doing something that he honestly believes is right and good is quite different from a man who knowingly does wrong.

  See, a part of the problem is that we never know all of the information. We only know what we can see and what we believe of what we are told. I do know that good motives do not negate bad actions, at least not all the time. Stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving children might be considered a good motivation. Doing so in our society where everyone gets fed through some sort of charity if they ask makes it a bad motivation, and worthy of jail time.

  Why do I ask this? Well many of the readers of this blog are writers or wannabe writers. If you are writing a book the motivations may not matter to the story, it may be only the actions. Whether they matter to the story or not they should matter to you. Unless you have a rational thought out reason for the actions of your story the story itself will suffer. The Evil Monarch of your story might be able to stand as someone who does evil for it’s own sake. Most stories it really helps if the Evil Monarch has motivations such as protecting his power or his people. Even if he is doing the wrong thing he should know why. Which means as the author you should know why.

  So ask yourself, What or why?

Cedar’s note: 

The God’s Wolfling is on sale today, if you already own a copy please pass on a link if you enjoyed it, so someone else can, too. Many thanks to all you readers, may your shelves never be bare!

1 thought on “What or Why?

  1. I appreciated the nuanced approach to actions and intentions. I agree that some actions are always wrong, regardless of intent.
    Good advice on writing too. I have an antagonist whose only motivations seem to be “death…destruction!”. I’m going to have to work on understanding why exactly he wants these things. It’s hard to humanise a caricature though.

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