I have an idea, fiction, which uses the following moral:

"Young, fallible hero seeks to improve his life by exploiting a higher power, however, the angry Gods don't just punish the hero, they extend their wrath to everyone the hero touches, including those he loves".

However, as an experiment, I'd like not to limit my story to this one moral. I don't want to accept that when "Gods have punished the hero and extended their wrath to everyone he loves" that that's the end of the story, despite how bleak it is.

I want to keep the original moral, and explore it as a piece of fiction, but I only want to treat it as half of the story.

I'm curious to know what other writers would consider a worthy continuation/follow-on from the moral described above, without it feeling too inconsistent or jarring to the reader.

  • 1
    It seems unjust to me that the gods would punish everyone around the hero (unless they were complicit). So as reader, I would like him to destroy the gods. Now, that may seem like doubling down on his initial offense, but assuming it comes at great cost to himself (even his life, at the end), it could be pitted as a redemption arc.
    – user54131
    Jan 14, 2022 at 7:28
  • 2
    Have you checked existing stories? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midas#Mythology What have you considered? Why don't you like what you already thought of?
    – NofP
    Jan 14, 2022 at 10:54
  • I have looked at a quite a lot of existing stories, but none of them seems an appropriate match. Ofcourse, this could just be me not really knowing what I want, but nothing really resonated, or landed particularly.
    – Brian
    Jan 14, 2022 at 17:06
  • This doesn't sound like a moral. A moral is virtue rewarded or vice punished: it's a lesson about good or bad behaviour. What is the lesson of your idea? That life is meaningless and futile?
    – Stuart F
    Jan 20, 2022 at 10:20

2 Answers 2


A moral is usually a pithy one-liner giving a symbolic recommendation for future action, like "slow and steady wins the race". The quotes in the question looks more like a plot summary than a moral - though they suggest the moral "If you mess with the gods, they'll mess with you".

Subverting the form by introducing another moral (for example "if the gods mess with you, you can mess with them") would be a legitimate progression to the story - and one that many readers (including me) would find very satisfying.

When you're dealing with multiple morals, the last one "wins" and the whole story takes on that principle as its moral.

You could go further with "the gods always win in the end", and spin that back with "gods are just an external projection of inner thoughts", and even then would still be able to loop back to the first idea with a last line "even metaphors will mess with you if you mess with them", but that's heading into the sort of narrative complexity that many readers would find annoying even if it was done well. For a story - rather than an exercise in creative writing - a single change in direction would probably be most effective.

The story will only have one moral, but parts of the story - and particularly earlier parts of it - can suggest that they had been going in a different direction.

  • Thank you so much for responding. I read what you wrote with great interest! Thank you again.
    – Brian
    Jan 14, 2022 at 16:56

Theme vs Moral

Rather than 'moral' you might want to consider this concept as the 'theme' of your story. Theme is a broader term, morals generally go along with parables.

"Never steal from the gods" is a moral.
"Indirect consequences of un-earned power" is a theme.

You do not want to switch themes midway through the story. Themes accumulate in the reader, and a muddy mixed-message is worse than no message at all.

I suggest finding a theme that works by conditional logic, in your case you need a theme that makes sense why the hero's family is sacrificed when the hero 'does it wrong'. The same theme should also work under whatever method your hero learns to 'do it correctly'.

What are the rules, exactly?

Gods tend to be very picky about how their sacrifices and adulations are performed, the reasons why are esoteric, obscure tradition, or just plain contrarianism.

There is a whole backstory to Cain and Abel where Cain is a farmer and Abel is a shepherd. Their god prefers a blood sacrifice of lamb over vegetables, so (wiggle-room for artistic interpretation) Cain offers up a more valuable human sacrifice which goes badly for him. This parable is muddy because it was ret-conned to explain why later that same god kills everybody in a flood for having descended from Cain (not their fault)…, but God told everyone to leave Cain and his descendants alone…, huh? The moral is supposedly 'don't kill your brother', but the situation is problematic, and also God kills everybody so it's one of those rules He doesn't bother to follow himself. The theme is 'Do as I say, not as I do' which is maybe accurate but not a very useful moral, imho.

In an unrelated myth Helen, Queen of Sparta, walks away from her unsatisfying marriage to get some side-action with an 18yo. They both worship Aphrodite who is all about the sexy-funtimes, so despite the shocking behavior they are good – haven't technically violated their deity's rules. Meanwhile, every hero in Greece sails over to Troy to force Helen to come back (without Helen the Spartan government is invalid: they rule, she co-reigns with her sister – who ironically rules Sparta just fine without them). But nah, Helen sits up on the wall while the ultimate bloodsport takes place below, sacrificing the greatest warriors that exist in one-on-one combat, for years. The gods become so distracted by Helen's game, each meddling and taking sides, by the end she collapses the Age of Heroes and the world is plunged into a dark age. Afterwards the gods do not come down from Olympus anymore. Helen is not punished, she goes on to conquer Egypt. There is no clear moral here, but the theme is pretty bold: it's the story of an uncompromising woman who levels-up from queen to demigod to ending the world.

  • Brilliant. Thank you so much for responding. It was a very interesting read.
    – Brian
    Jan 14, 2022 at 17:01
  • I had never heard of the link between Helen of Troy and Egypt before. But Wikipedia does confirm a link, to the extent that she spent the years of the Trojan war there (according to some). But I can't find any mention of her conquering Egypt. Is there some more modern story that you're basing this on? Because I'm always in the market for stories about all-conquering women.
    – user54131
    Jan 16, 2022 at 16:11
  • 1
    @towr probably something I pulled from Bettany Hughes' book which catalogs several revisions of the Helen myth through the ages. (It would have been early enough for Helen to be a 'Hero' and late enough to ret-con some sort of non-existing Egyptian war). I tried websearch but… it's an exhaustive subject. Hughes has a video series, too.
    – wetcircuit
    Jan 16, 2022 at 17:12
  • Thanks! That looks like an interesting book.
    – user54131
    Jan 16, 2022 at 17:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.