Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reconciling differences

I have made no secret of the fact that I'm a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Most call us Mormons.

It's also no secret the members of the LDS faith generally abstain from smoking, swearing, extramarital and premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol.  Many think that we're not allowed to have fun because of this.  But, isn't it more fun to be able to remember how fun the party was rather than wonder what trouble you got into because you were drunk or stoned?

Lately, I've been struggling a bit with reconciling my personal beliefs with writing what's true and authentic for my characters.  I don't read or write steamy romance.  I blush quite easily.  (Frankly, I wish people would realize that a movie can still work without a gratuitous sex scene.)

The first novel I wrote and the short story I penned right before it featured LDS characters.  It was never made explicit that they were LDS, but in my head they were.  No hanky-panky going on there.  No swearing, either.  In fact, there might have been several references to heading off to church.  Then I wrote my YA fantasy.  There wasn't much there, except maybe a hint or two with some of the adult characters, especially since my main character and her friends were all ages 10-14.  No hanky-panky there.  And since it was fantasy there wasn't really any cussing in the sense we think of it.

And frankly I started feeling like I was writing the same character over and over again.  I was bored.

So I branched out.  The main character in my current novel is definitely not LDS.  I've written a fade to black moment, he drinks casually, and swears when all heck breaks loose.  But he doesn't swear often in the book.

I asked my brother if he'd read the manuscript for a multitude of reasons, the first being that he's a guy.  And he can give me excellent feedback on whether my main character sounds manly enough.  But I asked him, too, because he's the one guy in my life that I can ask who won't be offended by the non-LDS behaviors.

I'm starting to feel guilty for writing in swear words and hinting majorly at a sex scene and such.  It's really becoming a struggle to reconcile my personal beliefs and convictions with what I know needs to happen for my characters.

I know that I have at least a handful of LDS readers out there and that there are a lot more who aren't.  My question to the former is how do you bridge that gap, if you ever do?  To the latter, (I hope I haven't offended you with this post) how do you bridge the gap backwards if you ever include a character who maybe doesn't do something that you view as fun or okay?  Do you ever write characters who maybe don't drink or don't sleep with people before marriage?  (Those are just examples.)

And I really do hope I haven't offended anyone with this post.  It wasn't my intention at all.  I deeply apologize if I did and I hope you can forgive me for any offense.


  1. It is a real dilemma. (I'm staunch LDS, BTW.) But if your characters aren't Mormon, then they have to be true to themselves. Still, you don't have to have them use the F word every other sentence. You don't have to write explicit sex scenes. Look at the "old" movies. The woman starts unbuttoning the man's shirt, etc, and then the scene "fades out." We know what they're doing! The power in the classics (movies and books) comes from the moral dilemmas, the choices the characters make, the action.

  2. Wow, I have to say, SAMES!!
    I'm a Christian (and, like you, a more strict branch of Christianity, although not LDS) and every single one of my MCs was a church-going, non-wearing, non-drinking, holier-than-thou perfect little person. It got a little annoying to be honest, to have an MC who was probably even more devout than me. So I wrote from the POV of a character who would actually struggle with moral decisions and dilemmas, and the book came out ten times better than anything else I had ever written. People generally don't want to read about someone who is perfect, always heading off to church and doing the right thing. They want to read about someone who struggles, who has the same problems they do.

    Sorry for the super long comment :) You hit the nail on the head with this post

  3. I'm part of the group to which you addressed your latter questions. Nope, I'm not offended. You were very articulate in your thoughts on this post. When it comes down to it, it is being true to who your characters are. I know that doesn't help, but I think as you write, you can see behaviors that maybe don't fit with you you deemed a character to be. Values/morals/actions are all linked, but there is also a big link in there to authenticity. And readers can tell if a character is being pigeon-holed into behavior that isn't true to them. I hope that makes sense. Great blog topic!

  4. First of all, don't apologize for asking opinions or for being true to your self.

    Second - I have written characters that are definately non LDS (in fact, I've never viewed any of them as being LDS). But I think so much of what we say can be implied and that's the trick.

    Just having the implication of it happening (the drinking, the sex, etc) is sometimes enough.

  5. I'm the latter group and not offended. I do think your characters have to be true to themselves. YA probably does need some romance since the characters are teens. But it doesn't have to be filled with swear words or steamy sex. Read widely and hopefully you will come across some examples of books that create a balance you're comfortable with. Because all fantasies especially aren't filled with romance or swear words. Hope this helps.

  6. I think what you have to ask yourself is, who are you writing for? Once you figure out your audience than a lot of what you're struggling with will be answered.

    I write LDS fiction. My readers would be offended to read cuss words and graphic sex. I do have battle scenes, and I've tried to not make them too graphic, but war is war.

    Another thing to think about is, would you want your children to read your book? If you have a clear conscious about that, and if you've prayed and feel good about your answer, than you're on the right path. :)

    Good luck with your writing!

  7. There are millions of types of people in the world. Your cast of characters should reflect that in some way or they can come off as wooden and cookie-cutter. As one of your other posters touched on, you can have characters have morale compasses and not drown the reader with the “why”. Not every teenager drinks, smokes or cusses. Some do. Depending on your story, there is nothing wrong with having a mix. (And just because a character does one, doesn’t mean he has to do all three.) In my current work in progress, the main character’s mother is religious. I don’t beat readers over the heads with it, but it adds to her dialogue in that she objects to certain things that are said by other people.

    Write what feels right to you. Tell the story you want to tell, but make sure your characters have individual thoughts and identities.

  8. Oh, Stephanie, you really are being hard on yourself with this post. If anyone is offended by it, well then, that would be their problem, not yours. Now, as to your question, I so get how you feel. I'm not a member of LDS, but I was brought up in the Church of Christ, which is pretty similar, no dancing even (like the movie Footloose, if you get what I'm saying). Anyway, my characters have been a struggle for me as have yours. I actually have a beta reader right now who writes ispirational fiction, and I cautioned her up front that my characters were real people not necessarily Godly ones. She's been such a help to me because she doesn't judge it. The way I look at is this: the real world doesn't act like us religous folks, and us religous folks aren't perfect. We are all human. You write about humans not some super freak perfect beings, right? That all adds up to inner conflict for our characters. Write from your heart, and I don't think you can go wrong.

  9. These are great questions I've struggled with, too, but I eventually got over feeling guilty for writing characters that didn't have the same moral values as myself. I've always wanted to write fiction that is real, and the truth is, there's people out there that aren't LDS. Imagine that! I think it's not a matter of WHAT your characters do, but HOW you present it and treat the information. Stay true to yourself and write the best story you can.

  10. You know; I don't read or write in the spiritual genre. But when I've been looking for agents to suit my "family drama" novel, just about every one I find publishes solely in religious/spiritual writings.

    I don't think your audience is limited at all; you just need to be more creative in your world view.

    For instance; you do not have to write only characters that are LDS followers. Many readers out there - both religious and not - don't enjoy sexual inuendo or any sort of cursing in a Novel.

    I went to a writers conference a couple years ago and one of the participants was writing a murder mystery. The perpetrators were 3 15 year old girls - hmm, maybe they were LDS; they were about to go through a ceremony where they wore wedding dresses and became brides of God or Jesus. No, they were not Catholic; but some other faith where getting into the church approved academy guaranteed them the most desireable husband.

    Any way . . the short submission had all the elements of a "cozy" with no sex, or cursing, or drinking or anything that constituted "normal" highschool girls. But - and I'm not only not religious, I'm not a YA reader - the plot sounded highly engaging.

    Have you read Nicholas Sparks CHOICES? Not a religious theme, you knew sex had happened - or was eventually going to - and if there was foul language, it was so minimal it could probably be left out without being missed. Yes, the characters drank beer; but that could easily have been sun tea without taking any meaning away from the true story.

    It was a romance. Not hot, steamy, sexual. Sensual, sweet, heartwarming. What every 13 year old girl wishes for herself as a grownup. I'm sure there are many other books like CHOICES, it's just the first one that comes to mind for me.

    OH! Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors. She writes about social issues. Alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, abortion, scientific research; all are social issues; but are also spiritual issues as well. She writes about families, couples, and doesn't write sex ever - though her couples kiss, court, and yes eventually end up in bed together. You might like MY SISTERS KEEPER.

    I'm just saying I don't think you need make a choice between your personal values and your writing goals.

    I've written a short story about a 12 year old boy who takes a gun to school and shoots a bully. My biggest challenge was writing the family in a loving, non-religious atmosphere, and using no curse words. The e-zine I decided to submit to has some specific guidelines regarding sexual content, and forbids ANY foul language. I love this e-zine; the stories are so entertaining, with a variety of subject matter.

    Just type BEWILDERING STORIES into your browser, and I guarantee you'll not only be entertained, but you'll start thinking up a story of your own to submit.

    And yes; I'm on the second requested revision for possible publication, and no, they have not requested the gun be removed from the story. It's the dreamlikee quality to writing that gives them pause, not the subject matter.

    Good luck Stephanie. I hope you find a way to reconcile your personal and writing values.



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