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June 04, 2010


Karen Adair


But seriously I couldn't agree more. I've found my own writing stifled at times as I've worried about how it will come across, even though the story naturally flows a certain direction. I feel like giving up sometimes because I'm afraid I'll get attacked for what I want to write. Thank you for the permission to write the story and leave it to the reader to either get the message or throw the book in the garbage. :) My own internal reader is physically helped by giving it to my daughter to read. Knowing she reads it keeps me focused, honest, and conscious about what I'm writing. Thanks for the great posts!


Honestly, it really bothers me when people pass judgement on a book because the characters make some bad choices. I am fifteen years old and I know that people aren't perfect. We all make mistakes, we do things we shouldn't for the right reasons or do things we should for the wrong ones. A character who has perfect morals and does everything right would be completely unrealistic and boring to read. Our job isn't to teach morals, it's to tell a story that means something to us. When I write, it's how I make sense of the world and things that I don't understand. It enables me to try and look honestly at people and why we do what we do. Reading does the same thing for me. Perfect characters and perfect morals are not what makes a story good, at least to me. I love characters who make mistakes but rise out of them, like Enna. I think that sends the most powerful message to readers.

sara z.

Great post, Shannon.


In your previous post for this subject, you commented that you hear from "...parents who believe that children's and young adult writers have an obligation to have moral standards and create boundaries in their books so as not to expose children to issues/situations that are age inappropriate."

To me, that's like saying children should not be exposed to living, or breathing, or being. They may as well have stayed in the womb.

When I encounter people trying to impose their own moral value system, no matter what it is, on all of the other children in the world by dictating what "should" or "shouldn't" be in books, I'm reminded of Nujood. Her story is written in the non-fiction book I AM NUJOOD: AGE TEN AND DIVORCED. She was married off for money to a grown man and raped on a nightly basis until an aunt secretly gave her the money to escape.

Billions of teens and children live through darker, uglier, scarier things than are portrayed in most Children's and YA novels currently on the market. They live through those things, and then in the name of "moral standards," people try to take away all the media, all the literature, through which they could process what they have been through in favor of a bland, safe world of books only meant for sheltered children who've never left the womb of a comfortable, protected, primarily middle-class, usually American world.

It is as if those people are saying that only a narrow sector of children -- a tiny percentage of the world's population -- are worthy of having books written for them, and only about the parts of their lives that one infinitesimal set of parents sees as being "wholesome."

I find that appalling, and I'm relieved that the publishing world is not nearly so narrow-minded as some parents, or else Nujood, and thousands of other children like her, would go unheard as writers and rejected as readers.

Side note: I'm not sure what "So let it be written, so let it be done," has to do with the rest of the post?


Thanks for this post :) I like that your opinion of a writers' responsibility when it comes to morals is a mix of many things stated by the other authors. I agreed with most of them, and I agree with your opinions.
I really liked your point about how many people assume that their morals, for the most part, are shared by everyone else though that's not really the case. I often assume that very thing. To me, it seems as if right and wrong are so solid that everyone else must know what they are. It's helpful to know that that's not true.
I also appreciated your point about writing fiction involving non-fiction aspects, such as rape or loss. I'm currently working on a story about child abuse, and there were a few good tips in that paragraph. Thanks!


I've always felt kind of confused about your position on morality/writing/author's role/reader's role. I wanted to understand what you were talking about, but I just didn't quite get it. This post clarified your perspective for me. You have a lot of good points. Thanks!

Shannon Morris

I love so much that there are writers out there who write because they are passionate about writing, not proving a point, writers who write because they "have to". Those are the writers who reach me the most because they allow me delve into their worlds and derive what is most meaningful for myself. And I am always a better person for it. An excellent example is a great little book I read just the other day. "Breathless" by Lurlene McDaniel. It's about euthanasia. HA! Now there's a hot topic but approached beautifully, subjectively, and in a manner that offers a very personal perspective (from several characters). It wasn't at all preachy or condemning, it was just a sweet story that I allowed to change me just a bit. Thanks to all authors who have the courage to write something, anything, that offers a chance for a reader to grow. Love you guys!

Debra Driza

Great post! And I couldn't agree more that ultimately, parents are responsible for what their children read and discussing the implications of those novels with them. I mean, if every writer wrote books to make the most conservative segments of the population feel "safe", what a bore it would ultimately be--not to mention, an inaccurate and unfamiliar portrayal of life for many, many teens.

Palmer Family

This is a subject that I have thought a lot about because I have a daughter that sometimes reads 2-3 books a week. No matter how I try, there is no way that I can read everything before she does, so I have made a valiant effort to help her gain her own moral compass to guide her. I do agree that the movie rating system that we have is unsatisfactory, but I have to say that I would appreciate something more like a teacher’s/parent’s guide (not necessarily in the book) that lists some of the issues, both positive and negative, that are brought up in the book so that I could discuss them with my kids.


Your blog is writer food.

"some readers (parents) expect all my characters to be model persons and only do what I'd want my own child to do. That would take away the power of the story and the whole reason for books."

I think this is so true. Characters are people, and people are complex. One really good example that comes to me is the character of St. John in Jane Eyre. Man, what a complicated person! Brontë does NOT dictate what the reader's opinion of him should be, and Jane's judgment of him herself is complicated--she respects him, but he is rather misguided. Or is he? That is left to the reader to judge. And that is what makes him such a compelling character. Because he is so human--so flawed, yet so honorably earnest. One can see both the intensity of his moral character and the imperfection of his direction. Brontë trusts the reader with a human character--something really powerful. And power can be for good or ill. Books can be extremely powerful. We all know that. The censors of the ages have all known that. And I think the as-honest-as-we-can-make-it portrayal of human beings is a huge ingredient in that dangerous power.

Anthony Isom

You know what, Shannon, I have to agree completely with this post. As an aspiring author, I've often noticed the more open I am to how different a character is from myself, the better the story about that character becomes. And everything you've mentioned in this blog post is true even of Bible stories. I write stories for the children at my church and I've noticed that the more I believe that Abraham, David, Joseph lived imperfect human lives and made mistakes along the way--mistakes inferred by the Biblical passages expounding on their lives--the greater and more powerful my stories about them become. That's the beauty of storytelling, this ability to better understand persons, creatures, entities, powers and worlds far different from our own.

Jaya Lakshmi

This is something I'm trying to debate: what IS appropriate for middle-grade readers? The novel I'm working on has mild violence, a brief talk about sex, and constant torments of the protagonist's sanity. It's more for 13-year olds than say fifth graders, but I want to tell this story badly.

Princess Loucida

Love this post! It was eloquent.

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

I completely agree.
But as a side note:
I also feel completely safe with your books. Why is that? I don't know, it's a good question. Perhaps it's not necessarily the "morals" issues, what is right and what is wrong, but perhaps it is that I feel safe with your writing in general. I can count on the words and the images and thoughts flowing freely and bringing me different thoughts and emotions. And since I can count on that, I can trust that your stories will follow an incredible journey that will be no means ever disappoint me.

Je Reve

Oh, I just want to read this post again and again like staring at a new penny. This topic is so inspiring...

And again with the graphic novels. For shame, Shannon!


I read Calamity Jack finally! It was so beautiful! http://i225.photobucket.com/albums/dd169/Sabe815/JackRapunzel022.jpg


Some of things said reminds me of something that happened when I was little. My mom said that once, while we were grocery shopping, I said I wanted to pick out my own cereal. And my mom thought "Oh, she's going to pick some type of sugar-loaded chocolate cereal." But she let me pick anyway. And much to her surprise and relief, I chose bran flakes.

~Molly, 16-almost-17-year-old


I think I agree with you in more or less words. I do agree that the reader has all the say about what they get out of a story, but I think the author/the artist has more influence on the reader's thoughts than they think they do.

But I feel like I understand a basic moral scope of a person when I read their books and I don't get ANY idea of this scope from the characters OR from the events of the book. I think what shows a person's moral beliefs in their writings is how events are presented, how the author voice shows what happens after the good and bad decisions a character makes. Not the characters. Not the events.

In my own writing I naturally write the way I believe in things: in God, and in what makes a person happy and what makes them unhappy. I never say what I think is right but the presentation of it tells you anyway by my will or not.

I don't believe there's some moral-less license to story-tellers. I don't believe a story is like a God and should live and breathe in its own morals for whatever makes it thematically interesting. I think the author is always there and unintentionally voicing their opinion about what is happening. I really believe you sense the feelings that go into the story.


I just stumbled upon (using the stumbleupon application) this letter to Publishers Weekly http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/3189-read-this-b4-u-publish---.html
He mentions how teenagers don't want morals because they already get enough at home. As a teenager, I agree with that. As much as some parents might think the books morals are going to change us, we know that what we are reading is fiction. We read, not for the morals, but for the story, for the laughs, and for the characters.

Silver Strands

Hi Shannon. I know you're super busy, but have been thinking for some time now that I should contact you. If you get 3 or 4 minutes please check out my blog. You'll find that my hope is to bring people together who can lift and inspire. I'd like to highlight you and what you've done for good-clean reading for youth. (I'd definitely mention that I've only read your books as an adult and STILL loved them! ... currently reading THE ACTOR AND THE HOUSEWIFE) But when I talk about you I'd love to offer a giveaway of one of your books, autographed. If you find the time, please contact me and let's see if we can work together some.
Thanks for your time and your contribution to so many people's enjoyment!

Anna Elliott

This is SUCH a great, great thoughtful post. Thank you! I'd only add that I certainly agree with monitoring what my kids read and making sure they're ready for particular stories. But I think we also sometimes don't give kids enough credit for being able to tell the difference between reality and make believe.

My older girl is three, and in the 'eats nothing but peanut butter and jelly' phase. I was teasing her the other day, 'you're going to turn into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know.' And without missing a beat, she said, "Oh, don't be silly, mummy, that would be magic, and we can't do magic, it's not real." Now, we've never talked to her about magic only being in stories we read together not the real world, never said a word about the difference between reality and make-believe. I wouldn't necessarily even have thought she was ready for that conversation. But at age 3, she'd already just naturally worked it out for herself.

Kids are wise, if only we credit them for it and listen to what they have to say.


The thing is, we all have a moral obligation to think about how our actions affect others. I know morals is a subjective topic, but does anyone disagree with the following phrase? -- "It should matter to me whether or not I am harming others."

Does the fact that not everyone agrees about what's right and wrong somehow release us from having to consider it? I hope not.

All people should have some interest in the welfare of others, particularly in children and young adults, our society's future. I'm sure you recognize in other areas of your life that the things you say and do make an impact on your children and other children. Why would being a fiction author somehow absolve you from your responsibility to think about how your actions affect them?

I'm not saying that when we write books we need to write them to match everyone else's standards -- that's not possible. I'm saying that morals ARE a consideration when we write (or do anything else in life). I'm saying it SHOULD cross our minds whether we are influencing others in a negative way. When it comes to these choices, we obviously have to let our own sense of morals be our compass. If an author truly believes in her heart that the underlying morals of her books aren't damaging to society, I don't have a problem with that, no matter how many parents say otherwise.

But there are too many authors who never even give it a thought.


(And let me add to that comment that I just posted that Shannon Hale is NOT one of those authors; I think her books have a remarkably positive influence on the world. I'm just weighing in on the discussion because so many other authors are following the debate.)


Interesting bit about the different ages getting different things out of the book, and so true! I'm 12, and the Goose Girl is my favorite book, which it has been since I was about 7 or 8. But as you said, Shannon, I got different things out of it when I was younger, and I'm sure I'll get different things out of it when I am older. Recently I reread it and got more out of it than I did even a year ago!


On the thought of different ages know what they're comfortable with reading, I completely agree. Your example of different ages taking different things from The Goose Girl is also one I can relate to. My parents gave The Goose girl to me for my eleventh birthday. I was shocked though when I came to end of part one. I didn't want to keep reading past it, so I put the book down. When I was thirteen, I decided I could handle it. And now, it is one of my favorite books! I'm sixteen now, and every time I read it, I take away something new. So I think putting restrictions on the things we read is not a good idea. A person can't learn his or her own boundaries if they never get the chance to test them. And although parents might think they're doing a good thing for their child, they send them out without really knowing their limits.


I agree with the comment that a 9 year old can't get what a 15 year old would get out of reading Goose Girl. I am not a writer, but I think that the reader decides what he or she gets out of the book. I read the Goose Girl when I was 10. I got certain messages from it like the friendship between Isi and Enna, but reading at 15 I get a whole perspective on life, not just messages. But as a 15 year old I also realize that I don't have to agree with the "morals" of the story. I can choose to ignore or differ in ideas that are displayed in your work. As a 10 year old I was blind to most of the symbolisms and "morals" but now I can easily see them and side or disagree with them maturely.

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