May 17, 2016

Using the Book of Mormon as a Guide to Writing

by Terri Wagner

This week as I again taught Gospel Doctrine, I reminded our group that the main question we should always ask ourselves is why did this particular author write that, and why did Mormon keep that story in his abridgement. We have lively discussions about that because there really is no right or wrong answer, just a practical application as to why Mormon thought that as latter day saints we would need to know about this. It's my favorite part of the class because I feel we all benefit from the discussion. Although it is hard to keep a straight face when some go off into obscure reasoning.

So what does that have to do with our writing? Frankly, I see it as a perfect example of what to do and perhaps more importantly what not to do. The first and only rule here is have an objective then write, throw out anything that does not support your objective. I know we hear this a lot. But imagine Mormon sitting in a cold, dark, damp cave with an oil lamp pouring over scrolls worried that he would get something wrong. Not understanding why he had to copy Lehi's journal then back it up with Nephi's version. He even says I do not know why I am doing this. Of course we know why. Centuries later, Joseph Smith would learn a great and terrible lesson about giving away parts of the translation to Martin Harris who to his credit was not really trying to sabotage the work. I can so see Mormon peering over his work. I would love to be in the background and have the chance to touch his shoulder and whisper it's ok, we will understand, we will treasure every word well except for all those "and it came to pass." Hopefully my reformed Egyptian would make sense to him.

I see you too pouring over your work, struggling like he did to get it right. I'm sure he prayed a lot and so should we. Many times I have written a scene thinking it was terrific only to discover however brilliant, it did not fit the narrative or altered it in a way that changed too much. I wonder if Mormon had his favorite characters, and wanted to showcase them a bit more over the others. And yet no matter how many times we read the Book of Mormon, we learn something new, we reintroduce ourselves to what seem minor characters, like all the sons after Jacob that just keep passing the records down giving us its genealogy so to speak.

Bottom line: use Mormon's example time and again. Pray over your work, stick to your objective, discard what is great for what is glorious. The lessons we get from our religion are just as applicable to our personal endeavors as they are to our spiritual growth. I truly believe that.

1 comment:

  1. "Although it is hard to keep a straight face when some go off into obscure reasoning." Ahaha...that made me laugh so hard. A few months ago my husband had to keep me in my chair and hold my hand down when a teacher went off on an obscure tangent and then started directly quoting passages from the temple ordinances.

    "discard what is great for what is glorious" Terri, thank you, thank you for this timely reminder. You are magnificent. hugs~


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