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Writing with a Purpose: Delivering the Message Your Audience Needs

Authors learned how to bring their fiction and nonfiction writing to life at the Latter-day Saint Publishing and Media Association 2021 Conference.

Woman writing in a book

The 2021 Latter-day Saint Publishing and Media Association (LDSPMA) Conference provided a wealth of knowledge and tools for aspiring and up-and-coming authors. The conference featured six tracks for various Latter-day Saint creators, including fiction and nonfiction writing tracks. Each track included a variety of classes that helped authors sharpen their skills and overcome common obstacles in writing meaningful stories. Two of the classes (“The Magic of Storytelling” and “Strong Women”) from the nonfiction writing track helped authors focus on meaningful, authentic writing that can have a lasting influence on readers.

John Hilton III and Devan Jensen, “The Magic of Storytelling: Tricks to Help Your Writing Resonate with Audiences”

Storytelling doesn’t have to be elaborate to make an impact. Devan Jensen (executive editor at the BYU Religious Studies Center) and John Hilton III (associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture) taught nonfiction writers how to integrate the elements of good storytelling into their writing. During their class, Jensen and Hilton shared the following tricks:

  1. Tell stories that matter 
  2. Find a fresh approach to a familiar topic 
  3. Hook readers 
  4. Spin your story 
  5. Dare to share and make people care 
  6. Craft an ending that leaves readers wanting more 

Tip 2 inspired Hilton’s book, Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ. While serving a one-year rotation at the BYU Jerusalem Center, Hilton pondered a question asked by his colleague: “Why do you think that whenever we talk about the Atonement in church, we focus on Gethsemane?” The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a familiar topic to Latter-day Saints, but Hilton realized that Church culture tends to shy away from discussions about Calvary.

After researching the topic, Hilton concluded that there are only two passages throughout the Latter-day Saint standard works that discuss Gethsemane, compared to fifty-four references to Calvary. This new understanding of a familiar topic led Hilton to write a book that told a thought-provoking story for his Latter-day Saint audience. He said, “I could have just come out with some statistics and reasoning, and that could have been chapter 1 of the book. But instead, . . . I wanted to tell a story of me as someone who didn’t realize that there’s a scriptural emphasis on Calvary and how I came to wonder about that question and start to look into the details.”

Jen Geigle Johnson, “Strong Women”

“Everything we know about history . . . we know because someone wrote it down,” said author Jen Geigle Johnson. “That is really important because women in history weren’t always telling their own narratives. Our impression of women through the ages is taught to us through what’s been written about them.” This partial narrative of women is detrimental because it often doesn’t portray women accurately, yet it affects how women are treated. Johnson explained that because women haven’t been represented fully or accurately throughout history, our job as authors is to write accurate, complex, and strong female characters who tell their own stories.

Johnson shared examples of strong women throughout history and fiction, including Ruby Bridges, Katherine Johnson, Wonder Woman, Molly Weasley, and Sharon Eubank. Each woman faced challenges and overcame obstacles, but most importantly, each woman showed strength in her own way. Johnson said that one way authors can draw on these examples of strong women is by ensuring that our female characters “make decisions for themselves” and remembering that “their paths don’t have to be men’s paths.” The beauty of writing a strong female character is that the character has unique traits because she is a woman, not a woman masquerading as a man. Johnson pointed out that a good female character makes things happen in her own life, is not acted upon, stays true to who she is, brings light into the world, and makes a difference to others around her.

“Femininity looks different on every woman,” Johnson noted. “It doesn’t require pink or fluff or ballgowns. Your femininity is what you came to earth with.” So write women that inspire because of their kindness, or make you laugh because of their wit. Write women who are real— flaws and all—because those women, those characters, change the world.