William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize for Literature  acceptance speech, said:

“The human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about”

At the heart of all good stories is a character or characters confronted with moral dilemmas.

For example, in the film, Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash character has to choose between love and his desire to escape reality by taking pills. In Woody Allen’s latest film, Match Point, the main character has to choose between passion and material ambition.

In last Sunday night’s TV movie on the ABC, Ahead of the Class, the headmistress has to choose between the security of retirement and going along with the status quo or taking up the challenge of turning the troubled high school around.

Not only do these moral dilemmas give a story depth, they also create great drama. The essence of all good drama is the agony of moral choice. If a story isn’t grounded in a moral dilemma it becomes about one damn thing

after another. There is a scene from War and Peace that illustrates the point. In the scene, the Rostrov family are preparing to flee Moscow the day before

Napoleon is expected to attack and they are packing their remaining possessions. The predominant value of the parents is saving what is left of the family fortunes. There appears to be nothing wrong with a family trying to secure their future. That is until Natasha, who has been self-obsessed throughout the story, wakes late. She sees that the wounded are being left behind. There isn’t enough room for them and the Rostrov’s possessions.

To her it is obvious that human life is far more precious than any material possessions. She confronts her parents. All her mother and father can see is that the family will be ruined if they don’t save their possessions. They fight. Through the conflict with Natasha, the values of the other members of the family come into line with Natasha’s. They start unpacking the carriages to make room for the wounded. This makes it an incredibly powerful and moving scene.

To quote William Faukiner’ Nobel Prize acceptance speech in full. “I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something that did not exist before. “

Enjoy slp Sandra Lee Paterson

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