Writing Compelling Characters

This post is a blast from the past on my blog. I originally delved into this topic two years ago, here. Since I’m still doing revisions on my next novel, I’ve been looking at each character, examining them to make sure they have their own motivations, quirks, unique personalities, and mannerisms. This was a great reminder for me. Hopefully it will help you when you place your characters under that magnifying glass.

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Literature and the Challenge of The Mormon People

Matthew Bowman’s The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, published earlier this year by Random House, is possibly the best overview of Mormon history that I’ve read. Written for scholars and general readers alike, the book situates Mormonism against a broader backdrop of events and cultural trends in American history. For instance, it shows how Mormon intellectuals like B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, and John A. Widtsoe, along with Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant, actively sought to align—and sometimes adapt—Mormon teachings and practice to the optimism and ideology of the Progressive Era, which accounts for their idealism and scientifically rational approach to understanding the gospel.

As someone who has grown up in the church, and whose life has been thoroughly and unabashedly Mormon, I found the experience of reading Bowman’s book akin to looking through my grandparents’ photo albums and seeing ancestors with my nose and hairline. On every page of the book, it seems, is a genealogy of the Mormon character—rich historical explanations for why we think and act and say the things we do. It gave me a greater appreciation for how Mormons engage the world and adapt themselves to its challenges. It also led me to think seriously about what future direction the church and its culture will take as the world evolves and changes and poses new challenges for the Mormon people.

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Why I Spent Years Trying not to Be a Mormon Writer (and How I Got Over That)

In 1992, back when I started my freshman year of college, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I also knew (or at least thought I knew) that I didn’t want to be a “Mormon writer.”

The only Mormon literature I’d seen back then was pretty cheesy. It seemed to aim for sentimentality, and if that’s what Mormon art was all about, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I decided that “Mormon writers” were hacks, cloistered minds who cranked out sappy tales, like those seminary videos my friends and I found such glee in mocking. (Does anybody else remember the Tom Trails filmstrips? I found all of them here.  Classic stuff.)

A QUICK NOTE: I’m revealing the inner thoughts of my eighteen-year-old self in this post. It’ll become apparent pretty quickly that my eighteen-year-old self was an ignorant, deluded, misguided, arrogant, little punk. It’s okay if you don’t like him. I’m not too fond of him myself. Continue Reading →

From the Writer’s Desk: Be Weird, Mormon Writers!

The presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have been good for Mormonism because they’ve brought Mormons and the Church into the national discussion. It’s been gratifying to see pundits correctly clarifying Church positions while debating evangelical critics. And it’s been good for the public to compare Romney and Huntsman. One is a Mormon who served as a stake president and has been faithful to the Church all his life. The other has not attended church since his youth, but comes from a prominent Mormon family and still calls himself a Mormon. This helps people to see that the Church isn’t a cult in the business of creating single-minded robots.

The Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign also has done a good job at showing diversity among us. (And if you haven’t seen The Colbert Report spoof on this, you should check it out: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/394360/august-10-2011/yaweh-or-no-way—-mormons—god-s-poll-numbers ) We are making strides toward healthily complicating our own image.

Why am I talking about politics in a blog on Mormon creative writing? Because we need a complex view of ourselves if we are to create meaningful Mormon literature.

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Sometimes Death is JUST What The Story Needs

The year is 1999.

The Place is my dining room in my house in Draper, Utah.

The book I’m working on is my first one, Earning Eternity

It happened like this:

I had never written a book before, but had spent the last few months creating this story. I was having a dang good time and loving what I was creating, but I’d hit an impasse. I didn’t know what came next. I had built conflict, but it wasn’t enough. I had great characters, but they weren’t enough either. I was faced with that 2/3 sag, where you’re not quite ready to end the story, but you’re running out of steam. I thought about some of my favorite books, trying to figure out what those authors did. That’s when it came to me. The perfect solution that broke my heart. Continue Reading →

YA Corner: A thank you to writers

Let me start with a disclaimer–I haven’t read a lot of YA this summer, Mormon or otherwise. I’m sad about that, but it couldn’t be avoided. Summer’s kind of a crazy time for me, and I haven’t had much time to read at all. What time I have had has been spent in reading for a project that has both a deadline and a public “performance” attached, so not much extra-curricular reading for me. But, last week, a book came on hold for me at the library, and since the reviews sounded interesting,  it was from an established YA author that I hadn’t yet read, and it had been getting some buzz, I made time (read: sacrificed precious sleep) to give it a go. Continue Reading →

Romance 101: The More Subtle Elements of the Formula

by Moriah Jovan

“The only real requirement of a romance novel is a happily ever after (HEA).” Everybody who reads romance knows this.

Here’s the dirty little secret: That’s not really true.

There are tropes, traits, tableaux, and themes that a vocal majority of readers (if the Amazon and other romance message boards are anything to go by) really don’t care for, most of which involve the heroine and what she should and should not be and do.

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YA Corner: Because Wrong is Interesting

Recently, one of our librarians recounted a conversation he had overheard in the teen stacks.  A teenager and her mother were looking for books for the girl when they came across a popular vampire series.   The young woman pleaded with her mother to check the books out, to which her mom replied, “Now remember, we’re looking for books that are virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.”

“But Mom,” the teen cried, “they are so good!”

As readers, and especially as parents, teachers, and advisers to teen readers, how do we balance the command to seek after anything virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy with the desire to read meaningful, honest, interesting stories? Continue Reading →

Agency and Storytelling

I just finished reading well over 100 entries to Irreantum’s fiction and creative nonfiction contests, narrowing them down to a set of semifinalists over which our contest committee can wrangle.  Reading all those stories and essays can be a bit of a slog, it’s true.  But it’s also one of my favorite things to do as Irreantum’s editor.  (In fact, I like to do it so much that I’m staying on as Irreantum’s contest coordinator after stepping down as editor at the end of this year.)

One of the reasons I enjoy it is because I’m a great lover of stories—stories of both the true and made up variety—and it thrills me to see story after story after story, each one original in its own way, being made about Mormon experience.  Some of these stories are better told than others, it’s true, but even the most amateur entry contains a kernel of a tale.  And the best stories?  (And there are some really good ones this year, I’m pleased to say.)  The best ones kept me glued to my computer screen, had me wiping away tears, helped me yearn or thrill or discover right along with the protagonist. Continue Reading →

Prayer and Promptings in LDS Fiction

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Rachel Ann Nunes’ post, just before this one, especially where she talks about how revising her latest book “essentially removed God from my novel.”

And I’ve been wondering why the LDS fiction I’ve read hasn’t had that much to do with God and how we LDS perceive Him and strive to become like Him.

I’d like to offer some ways that I think we could write stories about LDS characters receiving personal revelation, and growing in the gospel aside from what some consider tried (and tired) conversion stories, without reverting to any no-longer-valid-or-interesting “deus ex machina” endings, and, I would hope, avoiding the risk of offending “certain readers.” Continue Reading →