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.”
The main thing to consider, it would seem to me, is how to create believable conflict and challenge in a story–in an LDS context and as part of LDS culture. So my first offering involves decision-making stories. We should all have read D&C 9:7-9 enough times to know how to go to the Lord for help in making a decision, but even after studying it out in our hearts and coming to a tentative conclusion, sometimes He doesn’t answer with a discernible burning in the bosom or a stupor of thought. There could be countless short stories, if not novels, written about what an LDS character would do next. And there are countless ways to show God in the details as the character moves ahead, hoping that the decision is the right one, and showing how things work out, or don’t work out, in ways that help the character to grow into the potential that God knows we each have. The important thing here, it would seem to me, is to show a character trusting in God, being “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” and managing to “bring to pass much righteousness” even without being sure what God’s will in the matter is.
Another kind of challenge or conflict could arise for an LDS character who is in the habit of following Spiritual promptings and being blessed by them, but who feels prompted to do something difficult or, worse, something that just doesn’t make sense. Such a character would, of course (being the kind of person he or she is), go ahead and follow the prompting, hoping that the way would be prepared, but could find, as did Nephi, that the way prepared involves something extremely daunting. I’m not recommending that we write stories about LDS characters who find they have to kill someone in order to fulfill the promptings of the Spirit, but there are all kinds of fears and challenges we struggle with which such a character could be required to overcome in order to learn that weaknesses can become strengths for those who rely on God (Philippians 4:13). Such strength believably comes from “within” in other kinds of heroic stories, so if only the LDS readers know where it has truly come from, that’s fine.
LDS characters should be willing to pray often, since we are commanded to do that, but strong fiction doesn’t allow for easy answers to those prayers. Dr. John Lund has something he calls the “Intervention Principle” which lists five ways God intervenes when we ask Him to. In order of how He seems to be most likely to do something, they are 1) soften a heart, 2) strengthen the praying person, 3) raise someone up to do what the praying person can’t do, 4) lead the praying person out of the situation (exodus or escape), 5) remove the problem, but only after several attempts of the other four interventions.
Because in fiction protagonists are expected to solve their own problems, some of the above interventions from God can be tricky to use in a story. I would recommend falling back on some general folkloric methods in such cases. For example, in folklore, if the protagonist did a kind deed for a stranger or an animal (helping old ladies across a stream, feeding birds, rescuing a wild animal from a trap, and so on), the recipient of the kind deed often provided a tool or information or even eventual assistance that the protagonist could use later in dealing with the main problem. So, a grateful stranger could give the LDS character an insight that would help the character in softening an enemy’s heart. Or that grateful stranger could provide information that would give the LDS character the strength/faith/hope/will to endure. And so on. In that way, the intervention is earned during the course of the story.
Another folklore motif, the grateful dead, is one that could fit nicely into an LDS story. Our kindred dead have every reason to be grateful for the work we do for them in the temple, and there are countless stories in the LDS culture about help “from the other side” that members have received in doing that work. Characters get “good ideas” (or inspiration) all the time, especially if necessary clues are planted earlier in the story, and all the character has to do is put the pieces together in the right way. An LDS character’s “grateful dead” may or may not be the source of such inspiration, but general folklore certainly allows for it.
Other stories could be about LDS characters having faith enough to actually “seek the best gifts” as we are also commanded to do (extending this idea to include all gifts and talents and not just spiritual gifts), and to actually use such gifts for others. Challenges and conflicts could arise from the people LDS characters are prompted to use such gifts for, and not so much from the gifts themselves. Such gifts could be a given in an LDS story, part of LDS culture, and the struggles the character would go through could involve being in the world but not of it, and not whether or not there are such gifts or who deserves them.
Rachel Ann Nunes talked in her post about paranormal stories, and not all of these suggestions necessarily require the paranormal, though they could. They are intended for LDS stories, however, about LDS characters who are imbedded in LDS culture and struggle with challenges that are peculiar to LDS-ness. If “LDS fiction” is only about ordinary characters who just happen to be “LDS” and are otherwise not so different from other people, except for maybe the Word of Wisdom and chastity, then I submit that LDS writers are not “living up to their privileges” and are missing out on potential stories and aspects of being LDS that other characters and stories don’t have. Whether those things would be considered “paranormal” to other readers, or just plain weird, they are part of who we are, and I really would like to see more of them in the LDS fiction that is published. Surely it can be done within the constraints of LDS publishing.
Please, writers, if you don’t feel ready to write the kinds of things Rachel Ann Nunes talked about, won’t you at least consider putting more prayer and promptings into your stories?
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