A Mormon Writing Master Class?

In July, I wrote about my experience at Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. The short version is: it’s one week of awesome. Card’s instruction is great for sharpening skills of invention, arrangement, and style in your fiction. He’s also got a great sense for what the gold in a given piece is: people left Boot Camp excited about revision because Card gave them a stronger vision for what their piece could be. For devoting time and money to Boot Camp, you get both craft and energy.

After the fun of the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest, I’m wondering if we could make an experience for a group of twelve or so Mormon writers (in any genres) that left participants both with greater specific craft insights about issues in Mormon writing and with new ideas and energy for future projects.

Even if we go classic Mormonly cheap and have unpaid instructors hold classes in a meetinghouse or someone’s dining room, six days is a lot of time to give in one chunk for a field where no one makes money. But if we assigned readings in advance, then held class for three days and kept expenses low, would you be willing to use vacation days and pay for travel to participate?

Here’s a hypothetical agenda:

Day One:

Morning session: Audience Baselines

-Talk about current obstacles between various extant audiences and Mormon Lit. What concerns/stereotypes do readers have about Mormon Lit that writers ought to know they’re up against? How can writers quickly establish credibility with readers leery of the broader field?

Afternoon Session: The Sacred and the Mundane

-This has been talked about a lot as a fascinating site in Mormon thought, but raises some very practical writing questions. How do you write the sacred? What role does the mundane have in works that aspire to speak of the sacred?

Evening session: Invoking myth

-One of the best parts of being a serious Mormon writer is that you have an incredible wealth of myth–from scripture, history, folk belief, etc.–to draw on. What techniques do effective writers use when invoking myth in their literary work?

Day Two:

Morning session: Building Zion

-Scott Hales has studied the utopian tradition in nineteenth century Mormon literature, elements of which persist today. Arguably, Mormon writers of the 20th century from many different camps continued to use literature to imagine Zion (albeit often by identifying obstacles in the way). How can Mormon writers create characters or images that both gesture toward a better alternative and also come across to audiences as accessible and realistic? How can Mormon writers avoid the common trap of the shallow straw man ideological antagonist?

Afternoon Session: Writing Difference within Mormonism

-How can a writer depict an experience or character with a different Mormon experience than their own–for example in culture or region, conversion experience, family context, or level of comfort in the community?

Evening session: Workshop assignment

-We would do short writing exercises as part of each session, but on the second evening we would give a longer writing assignment and give participants time to write a more formal piece to workshop the next day.

Day Three:

Morning and Afternoon: Workshop

-The best part. Twelve great Mormon writers, getting live face time to speak to each others’ works in progress.

Evening: Publishing and Audience Building

-After workshop, we would talk about how and where one might publish Mormon Lit and how to build the audience for your work specifically and the field in general. Then we would make some resolutions and disperse.

…and that’s the plan I made up on the spot this evening.

What do you think? If it actually were to happen this coming summer, would you be interested in applying for a master class like this? What sounds intriguing on the rough hypothetical schedule? What sounds less useful?

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18 Responses to A Mormon Writing Master Class?

  1. Emily H. Adams says:

    I like it! I would definitely be interested. Another topic I might be interested in is writing LDS comedy without using stereotypes or becoming too irreverent. I’ve seen some great humorous posts on Everyday Mormon Writer that did this well and I would love to get some tips.

  2. Wm says:

    It’s the cost of travel (and lodging, although I’m sure there are people that would let me crash at their houses for a night or two) and taking time off that keeps from things like the AML Conference. LDStorymakers or LTUE. But this would make me think hard about that. So I’d at the very least like to hear more.

    In terms of workshopping: I’m less interested in responses to written work and more interested in bouncing ideas around. Testing premises. Fiddling with plot structures (outlines). Talking about what markets might be interested in which.

    One thing I’d like to hear other interested participants weigh in on is timing. Because my work is on an academic schedule, summer would work best for me.

  3. Laura Craner says:

    I would definitely be interested and be willing to make the drive out to Utah. Summer might be best, but I could be flexible. The agenda sounds pretty interesting. I would want time writing and time responding to people’s work. As long as it isn’t price prohibitive it could be really great!

  4. SteveP says:

    This sounds like a great idea. Summer would be better for me too.

  5. Jonathan Langford says:

    I would cheerlead, and hope someone would come, and that good things might come out of it. I wouldn’t attend, because I think my issues with writing are more basic than this.

    It strikes me that most of these are topics where I’d rather have several people sharing thoughts (maybe everyone there), rather than a single master teacher. The first topic, in particular, on audience baselines, is one where I’m not sure anyone has a sufficient knowledge base to do much more than admire the problem together. But I’d be delighted to be proven wrong.

    • I like a sharing model. With the caveat that we have direction and focus and work to usable (if provisional) solutions rather than just abstractly philosophizing.

      But I agree that the big payoff from a course like this, if we can make it happen, is not listening to a teacher so much as getting focused face time with a room full of experienced, committed writers who care about Mormonism.

  6. Scott Parkin says:

    Sounds fantastic to me. What would it cost to attend–tuition or participation fee, not living expenses? And what criteria do you use to whittle it down to twelve?

    • James Goldberg says:

      Scott,

      We don’t know about cost, but the goal is really cheap. Free if we can manage it.

      Don’t know for sure about the application process, but I’m thinking a writing sample of three pages or so and a one-page personal statement about the applicant’s interest in Mormon Lit. I’d be looking for writers with a strong foundation in general skills and a serious interest in Mormon writing.

      • Scott Parkin says:

        So it sounds like someone like me who writes general market stories that are not specifically Mormon (characters, situations) is not the kind of participant you’re looking to serve.

        Darn. It sounds really interesting.

        • Scott,

          I think it’s safe to say we’re looking to serve people who would find the course useful. Since several of the sessions will involve using Mormon mythos or characters, it’s probably most useful to people who occasionally write for Mormons. People who work primarily in other markets are definitely encouraged to apply so long as they’re also interested in sometimes writing stories/poems/essays/plays/etc. that the class would directly address.

  7. I would say that asking a week of anyone’s time is pretty unrealistic, unless perhaps its for the summer and you’re only aiming for those who work in academics and education who may have that time off.

    A weekend, though, or perhaps a Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday event (Sunday perhaps being filled with Sabbath appropriate events and a testimony meeting?) may be more realistic. A good model is the Mormon Artists Retreat (which I have written about here: http://mormonartist.net/issue-5/the-art-of-friends-not-rivals-shannon-hale-stephenie-meyer/), which is pretty much much a two day event, but feels like you get a wealth of Spirit and enlightenment in return.

  8. Davey says:

    I’m interested (and in Utah, which is convenient).

  9. Interested! Would even, possibly, have access to a venue. . .

  10. Mark Penny says:

    Why not asynchronous online?

    • Dawning of a Brighter Day is sort of an asynchronous online master class. And it’s great. But it seems to me that there are distinct advantages to having face time for instruction.

      Someday I would love to develop an online class in Mormon writing and one in Mormon Lit along the lines of what Kent Larson suggested on A Motley Vision a month or two ago. But doing a few lives sessions first would be my best way to get the unspoken human feedback I rely on to decide what works and what doesn’t.

  11. Emily Debenham says:

    I’d love to see an online class. I could not afford the plane ticket to attend an event in UT, as I live in PA. So, yeah if you ever want to attempt an online class you will have at least one interested participant over here. :)

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