Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gratitude in Every Thing

By Lacey Gunter

Thanksgiving weekend is a good time to contemplate gratitude, in general, not just the actual things we find easy to be grateful for. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18, "In every thing give thanks."  For most people, even in the midst of a difficult trial, it is fairly easy to come up with at least one thing they are grateful for, a loved one, a warm shower, sunlight, chocolate. There is usually plenty enough in our lives to find gratitude for at least one thing. But, what does it mean to give thanks in every thing?  Should we really be grateful for everything? For example, pain and suffering, what is so great about that? Why would God want me to be grateful for that?

Science teaches us that gratitude is a wise virtue to develop. More than just improving our emotional wellbeing, it can also improve our health. And that is great. But, honestly, one can "be grateful" most of the time by simply focusing on the things in our life that are easy for us to be grateful for.  I believe this scripture is asking us to dig a little deeper than that.

How do we become grateful in every thing?  I don't have a really great answer to this question and I can easily confess that I am not informed enough to know God's thoughts or ways. But for me, this kind of gratitude requires way more than just an "attitude of gratitude."  This kind of gratitude requires a desire for knowledge and understanding, coupled with a lot of pondering and introspection.

Probably one of the biggest causes of pain and suffering in this world is the selfish or poorly thought out actions taken by others. On the surface and even at a moderately deep level, it can be really difficult to find gratitude for these things. How do we find gratitude for other's painful mistakes? One way I am trying to do this is through pondering the plan of salvation and considering what those mistakes really are.

Mistakes or bad decisions and actions are often born out of choice. So, suffering from someone else's choices means we possess the true power or ability to make choices. This is certainly something to warrant a hefty amount of gratitude.

It is also through choice and its consequences that we learn and grow. Without the consequences we face from other people's actions, neither we nor the person who made the choice would be able to learn how to act better and be better. This I can feel honest gratitude for.

What sticks out to me the most, though, in pondering about the directive to give thanks in every thing, is understanding how our suffering is the path through which we are able to truly feel the joy the atonement can bring to our lives. We cannot fully understand the power and magnitude of the atonement until we have felt a small inkling of what it actually paid for. We cannot recognize what the Savior did for us individually unless we personally experience some of the pain and suffering our actions cause. And without this, how could we possibly feel the joy of repentance and knowing we have been cleansed and sanctified with the Lord. That joy, through first experiencing suffering, is beyond what I am able to express gratitude for.

These are some of the things I have begun to try to recognize and acknowledge in my life. How have you tried to develop the ability to give thanks in every thing in your life?  I would love to hear other people's insights that we all might uplift each other and be grateful.

Monday, November 14, 2016

We All Need Therapy

No, I'm not talking about the recent election (although there are a lot of people who probably need therapy after that, too). I'm talking about you and the characters in your story.

That's right: Character Therapy!

Recently, as I worked on my NaNoWriMo story, I got a little stuck. So I did some googling about how to get un-stuck. And I came across an article that suggested some questions we might want to ask our characters.

I can't remember what those questions were, but I do remember that they were deeper than the usual, "What is your character's favorite food?"-type questions.

Anyway, I used them as a jumping-off point and essentially sat down with my characters and had a therapy session. I was especially concerned about the male lead in my story, because I was having a hard time writing his reactions and responses, which I realized was because I didn't actually know how he felt about the situation. So I put him on the virtual therapy couch and asked him some questions and wrote out his answers.

Me: Cole, how did you feel about Molly before the scene at the restaurant occurred?

Cole: Well, before that I was interested in her- the way she reacted to my comment in Sunday School showed me she has some spunk, and her willingness to lie showed me she's not all goody-goody, and while the situation she's put herself in is kind of a pain, that part of her personality did add another layer to her that kind of surprised me.

Me: And what about the piano lesson?

Cole: When I gave her the piano lesson I saw that she's determined and willing to work hard.  But it is kind of irritating that she thinks she needs and wants a vanilla guy like Jacob. I guess part of my irritation is that I like her and I think she deserves better; the other part is that I hate that I get stereotyped so often because I don't look typical, so I want to challenge Molly to both be true to herself AND look beyond my appearance.

Me: Do you want to pursue Molly?

Cole: At times I wonder if there's even a point to pursuing her- is she determined to just be the person she thinks Jacob wants her to be? I'm mad at myself for even wanting to try when the odds seem to be stacked against me. Plus, I'm mad at her for settling and not being honest with herself. I hate that I want to help her, too, when what she's doing is so against what I think is right. But I can't help it. I want to rescue her.

Me: Thank you for your honesty, Cole.

[Cole leaves and I invite Molly in to take the hot seat.]

Me: Molly, how did you feel about Cole before the scene at the restaurant?

Molly: Before the restaurant he was like an annoying brother, but he was willing to help me, so I also thought of him as a friend. While we were at the restaurant he was definitely the annoying brother, but I also saw his nerve and his talent again, which I guess a lot of girls might find attractive, and it was...well, it was interesting.

Me: You say that other girls might find it attractive- why don't you find him attractive?

Molly: We practically grew up together. He's too much like a brother! And he has tattoos, which is obviously...well, it's not exactly my cup of tea. He's just completely wrong for me. Plus, he makes me nervous. He knows my secret and that makes him dangerous. 

Me: So why do you continue to spend time with him?

Molly: Easy- he's the only one I've got on my side in this if I have any chance of ever being with Jacob.

Me: Thanks, Molly. Good to know.

Essentially, I used the opportunity to kind of sort through the characters' emotions so that I could better write their responses to the different situations. As you can see, what I uncovered was a little bit more complex than a simple "I like her" or "I hate him." The different things that have happened in the story have shaped these characters' perceptions of each other, causing their relationship to evolve. You might also have noticed that these characters aren't being completely honest with themselves, and that also complicates matters. I have to understand not only how they say they're feeling, but also how they're actually feeling.

So if there's ever a time when you feel like you just don't know how your characters should react, send them to therapy! Take a time-out from the story and interview them and find out what's going on their heads. Pay attention to the underlying emotions they might not even be aware of, and think about how you can use the plot and other characters to move them to a greater awareness of those subconscious feelings, and also perhaps change their ideas on things. You might also want to consider throwing them into situations that are the exact opposite of what they might want to happen, and allow them to grow and change through adversity.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:

How did you feel before [event] occurred?
How were you feeling during?
How did you feel afterward?
If you could change one thing about [character or situation], what would it be?
What is your greatest frustration right now?
What is your greatest fear right now?

Happy writing, friends!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A More Rounded Discussion About Flat Characters

By Lacey Gunter

It's never pleasant to get feedback from a reader or reviewer that your main characters are too flat. Flat characters are characters in a story who have one, maybe two, personality traits and experience no growth or change throughout the course of the story. It's okay to have flat characters in your story to move the plot along, especially if their development would be a distraction from the main plot line. But even a moderately interested reader could probably tell you that flat main characters are bad because they don't feel real. They don't seem human. They are more like a plastic doll being moved around by the author as a tool to illustrate an idea, facilitate action, or contrast the realness and growth in a truly round or believable character.  Because of this, we really don't care much about what happens to flat characters. It's only the round, fleshed out, or realistic characters that command our attention and deserve our emotional investment.

There is a deeper lesson in understanding character depth than just improving your writing, a lesson that has never been more desperately needed than now, at least not during my lifetime.

When we throw labels on living, breathing human beings, we are attempting to reduce that person to a single perceived trait. In essence, we are suggesting that that one word description could sum up the entirety of who they are, what they have experienced, what they have accomplished and their relationship with the rest of human kind.  We are attempting to flatten that person's character and  implying that they lack the ability to experience true change or growth We are dehumanizing them and declaring them unworthy of our attention or emotional investment.

No matter how much we dislike what a person has to say or an action they take, no single label can truly sum up the essence of who that person is.  And Christ suffered on the cross every bit as much for them as he did for each of us.  So he has clearly demonstrated they are capable of growth and change and worthy of his attention and emotional investment. Why then should they not be worthy of our attention and emotional investment?

The next time you are tempted to throw a label on someone who thinks or acts differently from you, I challenge you to see that person as more than just a flat character.  Take the time to discover some of the depth of that person's character and recognize their humanity. In spite of their apparent flaws, you may discover something you didn't expect, a reason to respect them, an issue you agree with them or even the potential for a lasting friendship. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What I'll Be Doing This Election Cycle

Note: Oops! I’m sorry, I’m cheating and posting on my wrong day. I wasn’t able to get this up in time for my regular day last week. Sorry, MMWs!

I’m sure I don’t have to point out to any of our American readers—and possibly not our international readers either—that this has been a rough presidential election year for the US. Now, what I want to say here is somewhat political, but it’s more about who we are as people. So I hope you’ll stick with me in a dicey subject.

Many of us have struggled with who to vote for, and I’m not going to address that at all. That’s your decision, and I only suggest that it be made with prayer and consideration. But no matter who we vote for, there are some things I think we can and should do.

I was reading this past week about when Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount. As you may remember, He says this: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). This struck me forcibly as I thought about the news, the general world that we live in, and this election in particular.

There’s a nearly 100 percent chance that we will end this cycle with a president I personally am unhappy with, someone I am not naturally inclined to love (since, to be frank, I don’t like either of the major party candidates). Regardless of who wins, around the country there will be anger, name calling, scandals, fights. This is inevitable and I can’t change the general climate. But what I can change is my own response.

I can pray for the future leaders of this country, even if they feel like enemies. I can pray for those who show their displeasure in immature, unpleasant, and even violent ways. I can pray, and by praying I can increase my love (even if I still don’t like them).*

But how can you pray for them sincerely, you ask? I have given some thought to this, and here are some of the things I feel like I can genuinely pray for, no matter who it is:

*That they will be guided to choose the best possible advisors and friends.
*That they will listen to wise counsels to the greatest extent possible.
*That they will be moved to strive for nobility in action, even when it’s difficult.
*That they will experience the true joy that comes from choosing righteous paths, and that that joy will lead them to seek more good.
*That they will be protected from making choices that will lead to their own and others’ suffering.
*In general that they will find wisdom and then find joy in following wisdom’s path.

Are these not things that we can ask for anyone who enters an office, no matter whether we consider them enemies or those who despitefully use us? Are these not things that we should be able to pray for all?

I guess no matter how we feel about our elected officials this election season or any other, no matter how we feel about our neighbors, our acquaintances, the anonymous commenters on news articles, I hope we will find the moral courage and the true charity (AKA love) to pray.

*Yes, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to love someone even if you don’t like what they do or want to hang out and get pizza together.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Your NaNoWriMo Lifeline

by Kasey Tross

It is Day 7 of NaNoWriMo and we have officially hit the end of the NaNo honeymoon (you know, that first week where you're all, "I just looove my novel! It's soooo amazing! This 50,000-words-in-30-days-thing is gonna be soooo easy!")

So how is your novel coming along?

If you answer is, "Well, Kasey, actually it's NOT coming along," then never fear- your lifeline is here! 

On Saturday I went to a great free event called The Festival of the Written Word at one of the county libraries. It was an all-day event that included several panel discussions and workshops. I was only able to sneak out of my house for one panel discussion, but my goal was to gather a few tidbits that would help inspire me and keep me motivated to finish NaNoWriMo. 

Good news- mission accomplished!

So if you feel like your novel is more likely to sink than swim, then try thinking about a few of these ideas and see if any of them get your creative juices flowing again:

1. Nail-biting Tension- there are many things that can create tension in your novel. One device to create tension is conflict. Where is your story's conflict? Is it man-vs-man, man-vs-nature, or man-vs-self? How can you use these conflicts to ratchet up the tension? One idea- sometimes two (or more) people can interpret a situation in VERY different ways. How can you use that?

2. Go With the Flow- tension is great, but don't forget to give some breaks from the tension as well. Your novel needs mini-resolutions throughout, little breaks for the reader to catch their breath. Think of the story as a war in which your protagonist wins a battle, then loses a battle, constantly seizing and losing power. (see Cinderella and the Heat of Battle)

3. The Bad Guy- Remember, every villain is the hero in his own story. Don't forget to give him or her a few redeeming qualities as well, just enough so that he's someone your readers will love to hate. 

4. Arrive Early, Leave Late- Laying out every backstory detail at the beginning of the book may help your word count, but it won't help your story. Readers like to be challenged, so start your story in the middle of the action and keep them a little bit in the dark about everything else. Rather than saying, "We had just moved into the house," say, "I walked through the door and nearly tripped on another half-unpacked moving box." (note- I did this in my first story and I liked it SO much better) Sprinkle little clues throughout the story.

5. Clues and Red Herrings- Even if your story isn't a mystery, your reader hopefully won't know the ending from the outset, so giving them some clues as to the outcome- and some distractions to bury those clues a little bit- will keep the story moving and engaging. Don't forget to utilize setting and body language to drop a few of those bread crumbs along the way. 

6. Love Your MC- A story is only interesting if it's happening to someone we care about. Why do we care about your MC? Give him enough noble qualities for us to love him, but enough flaws for us to empathize with and relate to him. 

7. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid- If we love your MC, then make us worried for her. Make us afraid to turn the page for fear of what might happen to her next. Think of the worst thing that could happen, then go from bad to worst- and then a little worse than that. 

8. What's at Stake? Make sure you know what's at stake for your protagonist, and then as the story progresses, continue to raise the stakes to ratchet up that tension. Rather than "And then..." think "BUT then..."

9. Surprise! Bring in the unexpected, but be sure that it flows from something that's already there. 

10. She Has Her Reasons- Some of the most fascinating plots revolve around characters doing things that seem completely strange, wrong, even unnatural to us- but when you understand the little things that led them to that point, it seems perfectly plausible for them to have ended up there. Take some time to explore some crazy things your characters might do, and then build the steps to take them there.

Hope one or more of these ideas will help to un-stick you if you've gotten stuck.

Keep calm, and NaNo on!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

It's Almost Over, Folks

by Jewel Leann Williams

This (Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad) election cycle is almost over. It does not need to be said that the country, nay the world, is ready for it to be over. Our collective sanity and IQ's have all gone down at least 10 percent.

Most of us have had some button pushed at one time or another during the past year, and we've maybe said some things that we shouldn't have. Been a little more contentious than we should have, or less patient, or a little judgey.  It has been a LONG campaign. Check this paragraph from a New York Time article about the length of our election cycle when compared with the rest of the world:

So, where does voter fatigue come from, and why does it seem to be getting worse? One part of the problem is that our election season is simply too long. The United States has the longest head-of-state campaign season by a long shot. Senator Ted Cruz, the first serious candidate to announce he was running, announced on March 23, 2015. That means that, by Election Day, the campaign will have gone on for 597 days. In the span with which we’ve been paying attention to the same presidential campaign, we could have instead hosted approximately four Mexican elections, seven Canadian elections, 14 British elections, 14 Australian elections or 41 French elections.  (Roller, Emma for
597 DAYS. Wow. No wonder we're all tired and cranky.
Here's another interesting article about how our elections compare with several other countries:

Another reason we are so fatigued and downright belligerent about this election (aside from the candidates, but I'm not going there) is the negativity in the campaign. Somehow we've let the attack-dog atmosphere influence our interactions with strangers, friends, and even family, and turned us all into rabid zombie tribes tearing out each others' throats.

But this campaign season isn't the meanest or dirtiest ever... well, maybe it is... but for a little historical perspective, let's review some of the things other candidates have said in their attacks in the past:

  • Republicans told everyone that the Catholic Smith had commissioned a secret tunnel 3,500 miles long, from the Holland Tunnel to the Vatican in Rome, and that the Pope would have say in all presidential matters should Smith be elected  (Herbert Hoover about Al Smith, 1928)
  • "Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames... female chastity violated... children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION."  (John Adams, about Thomas Jefferson, 1800)
  •  Jackson's people said that Adams had sold his wife's maid as a concubine to the czar of Russia. (Andrew Jackson, about John Quincy Adams, 1828)
  • Adams supporters attack Jackson's family, calling his dead mother "a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers," after whose service she "married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!" Jackson's wife, who was previously married and (accidentally) not completely divorced prior to her second marriage, they call a "convicted adulteress." When she dies within days of Jackson's victory, he blames Adams' vicious campaign practices, exclaiming at her funeral, "May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can." (John Quincy Adams about Andrew Jackson, 1828)
I know, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right. But, this isn't a unique election, mudslinging has always been around. 

I know, I know. It's all so depressing. In an effort to remind us all that America is the greatest nation in the world, here are some Canadians telling us why they love us: 

And lastly, a beautiful rendition of a patriotic song and prayer, God Bless America: 

Hopefully that was a little bit of a tonic for the giant stomachache of the past 594-ish days, or at least a reprieve. 

Please remember, God is still in charge--if we are righteous, we will all be okay in the end. 


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