“Then why read novels?”

In a recent review of a newly-published novel, I concluded that its “polemic” emphasis made me like it less than I might have otherwise.  Every plot point seemed to be put there in service of an argument against something, a heavy-handed set of choices I began to find distasteful not far into the book.

So an astute friend asked me pointedly, “Then why read novels?” After all, my friend said, you have to concede that the author has a point and wants to voice it. Well, sure. An author has every right to do that.  But my friend meant, I think, to make me look hard at my own choices. If, she was saying, you don’t like a novel to make use of polemic discourse (as Jane Smiley defines it in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel), what do you like — or want — or need — when you choose to read a novel?

An excellent question, which I’d like to tease out a little here at the beginning of a new year, since “novel” means “new” and so far, 2017 is a pretty novel year, and now’s as good a time as any to think about why we should or could want to read novels. (Which I think we should. And short stories too — though I’ll save a discussion of those for another post or two.) For what purposes do we Mormon writers and readers employ novels that might be the same or different from anyone else’s purposes? Do we employ novels in a peculiarly Mormon way that differs from how novels have ever been employed? At first knee-jerk, I don’t think so. But let’s look.

Continue Reading →

On Writing, Mom-ing and Critics: An interview with Danette Hansen

What do you write? Tell me about your published fiction, and your current work-in-progress (if you don’t mind.)

CoincidenceI have two historical novels published; one under the title Coincidence. With a strong Christian tone, the past and the present resemble each other in my tender WWII mystery where Annaliese risks her future career in her search for answers. It has a deep family history theme. Here is a quote taken from the story, “It’s the legacy our loved ones leave behind that is important, not how many years they actually lived on the earth.” The book is set in the Netherlands where my husband’s grandfather is from which gave it a personal feel as I wrote. Continue Reading →

New Voices: Cynthia Whitney discusses the need for diversity in LDS fiction

When I was asked to blog here on AML, I struggled to decide how I could best contribute to discussions. I landed on the idea of voices: we have a lot of discussion here on AML about the state of Mormon Literature, but (I believe) not enough voices in our community. With this in mind, I will be interviewing a different LDS author each month about the LDS writing communities they belong to. I’ll be asking about their experiences working with LDS publishers, as indie authors, or as writers working toward publication. I’ll also be collecting opinions about what they feel is working well in LDS literature, and what they feel could change for the better.

I am hoping that, in bringing fresh voices to the discussion, we will gain ideas about how to broaden AML’s reach, meet some unmet needs in the LDS writing community, and cultivate more diversity in AML.

To that end, I chose for my first interview Lucinda Whitney, an independent author of LDS romance. Continue Reading →

Solving the Mystery of Writing Step #4 and Farewell

In a previous post, found here http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=4064 we discussed Solving the Mystery of Writing and Step #1 Finding Your Voice in my 6 Steps for Writing Success and Step #2 Write Every Day http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=4700.
Today I’m continuing with #4 Join a Critique group
Tip #3 I talked about in this post http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=4440

#4 Join a Critique group
If you’re serious about writing, attend writers conferences and classes, join a great critique group, read novels in your genre of interest, and write, write, write!A critique group is vital to a developing and seasoned writer. I’m so thankful for my critique group and how they have helped me grow as a writer.
When you’re looking to join a critique group, it’s helpful to find writers with varying skills—not all beginning writers or all advanced writers. If the group has a good mix of skills that will serve you best. By this I mean, if you are a beginner, you need to get in a group with other beginners and a few writers that have more experience. If you’ve already been part of a critique group, written several novels, attended many classes, you might look to a group with few beginners, more middle-ground writers, as well as some advanced writers.
Take into account personality, work ethic, drive, etc. because these will make or break the critique group’s productivity.
Also, learn how to take criticism and know when to apply it to your writing and when to chuck it out the window. This is a hard line to find because many times we hear criticism and our first instinct is to disregard it—you have to give the feedback a chance, mull it over, decide what you can take to improve
your writing and decide if you need to hold onto it or let it go.
Let me tell you a little about how my critique group works. We do all of our editing online. For short pieces, we each choose a specific color (mine is purple) and reply all in an email with our feedback typed in. For long documents, I use the track changes/editing features in Microsoft Word and then email the document. This works well for me because I have a young family. I hope to someday evolve into meeting regularly with a live critique group as there are specific advantages to this—such as hearing others read
your work aloud, getting instant feedback, having a regular time which drives you to accomplish your work so it can be critiqued.
When I receive feedback, I always read through it first and immediately change the things that resonate with me. Some things I will read and I’m unsure as to how to fix it or if I like what was suggested. If that is the case, then I make a note and come back to it in a couple days. Giving feedback a chance to percolate is helpful because many things will come to the forefront and you’ll be able to see more clearly what you need to do to make your writing better.
A critique group is important because it keeps you writing and stretching to improve your writing. Revision is what makes excellent writers and practicing this regularly with a critique group will help you hone your craft.

Sadly, this is also a farewell post for now. I’ve been doing a lot of extra work lately to help pay off medical/dental bills and with my young children, I had to let some things go. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the AML blog family and learning from each of you. If you are interested in a PDF of my steps to Solving the Mystery of Writing, I have prepared a document which finishes out the steps I’ve been sharing over the past year with you.  I’d be happy to email it to you, just send a note to rachellethewriter@gmail.com. If you’d like to keep up with what I’m doing, please stop by my blog here http://rachellewrites.blogspot.com/ where you can also sign up for my free newsletter.

I hope that you have many happy writing days ahead and enjoy this beautiful holiday season!

Tips for Bringing your Setting to Life

 David Farland often teaches writing workshops, and has trained a number of people who went on to become international bestselling authors—people like Brandon Sanderson in fantasy, Brandon Mull in middle-grade fiction, and Stephenie Meyer in young adult fiction.  He’s also the lead judge for one of the world’s most prestigious writing competitions for science fiction and fantasy.

Here’s a lesson on setting.

Years ago, I was reading a book on writing by a teacher from the American Film Institute.  She said near her opening something to the effect of, “Here is a list of the top 50 bestselling movies of all time.  Look it over, and see what elements they have in common.”

I quickly scanned the list, and in a matter of moments found three similarities, but to my astonishment the author followed her list by saying, “See?  They have nothing in common.”  She had failed to observe what was instantly obvious.  The first thing that these films had in common was that they were all set in another time or another place.  By that I mean, whether they were science fiction, fantasy, or historical, they all worked hard to transport their audience out of their chairs.

Continue Reading →

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.

Continue Reading →

The Mystery of the Muse

The guest post today was provided by the talented author, J. Lloyd Morgan. He shares his thoughts on a great creative topic–the muse–which I’ve often found must be treated gently. Mine at times requires chocolate. 🙂


The Mystery of the Muse by J. Lloyd Morgan

I was confused by the term “muse” when I first heard it—especially when people claimed to have one. Was it like a pet? Or a best friend? Perhaps it was more like a boss. From how I see it, none of these are good analogies.

So what is a muse? I think you’ll get a different answer from each person you ask. To that end, I can only give my opinion, but in doing so, I hope that will help others recognize their muse.

To me, a muse is a little voice inside my head that whispers “what if?” questions. It’s imagination, but more than that. It’s inspiration. My muse is also shy. He (yes, my muse is a man. I have a wife and four daughters, so I guess by default he’s a guy.) won’t come out and whisper the “what if?” questions if my mind is busy with other thoughts.

When I tell people I write books, a common response is, “How do you come up with the ideas to fill a whole book?” My answer? “I don’t. I come up with ideas for stories and then as I write, the ideas come.” You see, I’ve found that my muse is more willing to come out and play when I’m in the frame of mind to write.

I’ve been told that there are two types of writers: Pantsers and Plotters. A Pantser writes by the seat of their pants, hence the term. Meaning, they just sit down and write without an elaborate outline, pre-written character descriptions and such. A Plotter does the opposite. They have to plan out the book in advance before they can start writing. Which is the best way? Again, you’ll get as many answers to that as writers you ask.

Where does the muse fit in with these two types of writers? I would argue that both types of writers use a muse, just in different ways.

A Pantser relies on their muse to help them as they go. The possible upside? Once the creativity starts to flow, it can be an almost magical experience. It’s as if the book is writing itself. The possible downside? The story can sometimes lack direction, and possibly, theme. (Granted, the writer can also go back and adjust things.)

A Plotter may say they don’t use their muse as much—but something inspired them to come up with the basic idea in the first place. And in order to fill in the rest of the outline, even more ideas are needed. Hello muse! The possible upside of plotting? The work can have a cohesive feel—like everything belongs. The theme is present. The possible downside? A writer can ignore when their muse whispers a “what if?” question because it doesn’t fit with the outline.

So, how do I write? I’ll admit I’m a little of both Plotter and Pantser, leaning more to the Pantser side. I have a general idea of the story, the main characters and which direction they are going. However, when I write, I find my muse is doing a jig inside my head. He’s in his comfort zone. He’s more apt to whisper “what if?” to me, and I’m more willing to listen.

A perfect example of how this can work is in my second book, The Waxing Moon. Roughly two-thirds of the way into the book, one of the characters summarizes the mess they are in. She asks the other main character, “What are we going to do?” His response? “I have no idea.” The funny thing about this? At that moment in time, I, the writer, had no idea as well. I did have an idea how the book was going to end—however, I wasn’t sure how I was going to untangle the mess my muse and I had made.

I kept writing with the thought, “Okay muse, you got me into this mess. It’s time to get me out of it.” And it worked. Granted, I was a bit anxious for a while, but we made it happen.

Since this is a blog on a Mormon website, people might question how all this ties to our beliefs. I’m sure that there are those that scoff at the idea of a muse—that it’s contrary to what we know to be true. (I would argue that these people have locked their muse in a dungeon with thick chains—but, I digress…)

I believe that our Heavenly Father has given all of us different gifts. Some people are athletic. Some are amazing singers. And some of us have active imaginations with the talent to put them into words.

Just as when man first looked up into the sky and gave names to star formations in a way to relate and understand them, I think the same is true with the concept of a muse. People recognized that imaginative part of their brain, and in a way to understand it, gave it a name: a muse.

At least that is how I see it. And because I see it that way, I believe my muse is a gift—one I need to share with others.


Biography:  J. Lloyd Morgan is the author of two published novels by Walnut Springs, The Hidden Sun and The Waxing Moon. The third book in the series, The Zealous Star is scheduled for release in early 2013. Morgan has written a book in conjunction with international recording artist Chris de Burgh called The Mirror of the Soul which is slated for a fall release 2012. Morgan’s short story, The Doughnut was one of the top five winners in the Parables for Today contest. It will be released fall of 2012. Morgan is an award winning television director and author. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and four daughters.

Making More Time to Write!

I invited best-selling author and motivational speaker, Connie Sokol, to guest post today. She graciously agreed to share her secrets for making more time to write! I love her ideas and insight and hope you will too.

For most female married-with-children writers, finding a matched pair of socks is a time-challenge, never mind create, type, and polish The Best-selling Manuscript Ever. Over the years I’ve used a few fabulous tips to carve out hundreds of free writing hours. Because you’re likely short on time, I’ll share five.

1.10,000 hours.  Malcolm Caldwell, author of Blink, studied experts in their field (i.e. Michael Jordan in basketball) and discovered that 10,000 hours of focused and proper practice made them legends. The great news for moms is Continue Reading →

Solving the Mystery of Writing Step #2

In a previous post, found here http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=4064 we discussed Solving the Mystery of Writing and Step #1 Finding Your Voice. Today I’m continuing my 6 Steps for Writing Success with #2 Make Writing a Priority/Write Every Day

If you’re going to be a writer, you have to make a decision based on the importance of this goal. Are you willing to give up something to attain this goal? Are you willing to sacrifice? As mentioned before, many people want to write a book, but only a scant portion of those are willing to give up their free time to buckle down and do it and then keep working to get it published. You don’t have to give up your life and become a hermit and live in the woods by yourself, but you probably will have to rearrange how you spend your time.

For me, I’m choosy about how I spend my time. I don’t watch much TV and I’ve learned to complete tasks quickly. I’m a stay at home mom with four young children and I like to garden, sew, make cards, attempt to keep a clean house, teach my six and nine year olds piano, and complete my church callings. I also help kids with homework, cook/prepare three meals every day, blog, promote my books, dabble with my website, READ, do laundry, change diapers…you get the picture, this is nothing new. But where do I find time to write? I have to create those writing windows because writing is a priority for me.

If writing is important enough to you, you’ll make a space for it in your busy life. If not, then ten years from now you may not have finished that book you started. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that is what you want. If it isn’t, then decide where your priorities are and move on to the next step of this writing tip.

Write Every Day
You’ve probably heard this before. You must write every day! Well, guess what? I don’t always get to write every day. In fact, last week I didn’t write anything on my new novel because I worked to finish up another revision on a different book. Does that mean I’m suddenly going to fail as a writer? No, it means that life has been a bit crazy and I’m working back into the groove of writing daily. The point I want to make here is that if you miss a few days of writing, don’t consider yourself a failure. Turn the computer back on, pick the pen back up and begin writing. You will hear so many rules in writing and sometimes I think people get bogged down by the rules and feel insecure if they’re not doing everything “right”.
Yes, you should make a goal to write every day. When I’m working steady on a novel, I feel a compulsive need to write every day and I can’t stop thinking about the thread of the story and where I want it to go. Often, my characters haunt me to finish their story and I’m compelled to run back to the computer and type out a few more lines. I love meeting my goal of 2,000 words a day, but I’m not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t happen because that doesn’t do me any good. I also allow myself a day off here and there. I don’t work on my novels on Sunday, instead I try to focus on journal-keeping and family history, but it’s amazing what that bit of writing exercise does for me!

So for this part of the tip, I’d like to suggest that you write every day or work on your story five days a week at least, be it research, outlining, revising, whatever–just work on your writing every day. If you can’t do that, stay positive and ask yourself what is possible for you at this stage in your life. The most important thing to remember is that every book is written the same way–one word at a time.
Writing is hard work! I wish you the best and encourage you to discover and complete your goals. Good luck!

How do you make writing a priority? How do you motivate yourself to write?

The Mystery of Theory to Practice

For this month’s installment of Mysterious Doings, I’ve invited Braden Bell as a guest. I think his viewpoint is wonderful and I hope you enjoy what he has to share with us.

Braden Bell

I’ve always been intrigued by the apostle Peter—particularly the episode when he walked on the water, at least for a few miraculous steps.

Continue Reading →

Post Navigation