What’s the Difference?

Occasionally I have been challenged in my posts here and elsewhere when I talk about LDS culture, LDS books and LDS authors by those that bristle at the distinction–what difference (they say) does it make if an author is LDS?

The answer for the reader depends on a lot of different criteria, especially the subject and theme of the work. I suppose in most cases (for run-of-the-mill genre novels not in an LDS setting or including some LDS reference, for example) the author’s religion is largely irrelevant to the reader. But, on the other hand, a book on LDS doctrine should usually be by a church member, if not by a General Authority.

All this is probably obvious to the reader. But what about to the author? Does it make much of a difference to the author that he or she is LDS? What is the difference between an LDS author and those that are not LDS anyway?

I’m not at all sure that I can give a complete answer to the differences between LDS authors and other authors. As I’ve considered the question, I came up with two possible areas where I’m sure there are differences:

First, like all authors, LDS authors have some kind of moral or ethical standard that they apply in their writing — but in the case of LDS authors the standard is one that the author believes is compatible with the gospel. Its really not possible to write without reflecting some kind of standard, and it is natural for LDS authors to reflect the standards they believe are LDS.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the standards of all LDS authors are the same. I don’t think that the standard of any particular author is uniform or universal by any measure. But I do think that LDS authors try to apply some gospel-influenced standard to their writing and what it means–and this probably makes the bulk of LDS authors more uniform than others.

Fortunately, at least in my view, the lack of uniformity in these standards means that LDS authors can write a wide variety of works. There are very few works that can’t be honestly seen as fitting gospel standards.

For readers these standards may make no difference whatsoever. They may not even be obvious. Many LDS authors write stories that can’t be distinguished from those written by other authors simply because issues that make Mormons different from the general population don’t happen to come up in these stories. The LDS author has maintained his standards, but its not obvious.

A second area of difference is, I think, the presence of a separate LDS market. This market has an influence on LDS authors in a couple of different ways. First, it provides a choice of market, or an outlet for works. LDS authors who run into conflicts with the national market (and I do believe that this sometimes happens) or who can’t find a national publisher can try the LDS market. [This works in reverse too.] Second, the LDS market communicates a rough standard for what is acceptable in a work. Even for those LDS authors who reject or discount the LDS market standard, it still has some influence on those authors, perhaps mitigating their deviations from the standard, or influencing the type and extent of the deviation.

Combining these two ideas, an LDS author becomes simply an author who writes stories according to standards he or she believes are based on the gospel, or that are influenced by the LDS market or audience.

I’m not yet sure that I like that definition. I’m not sure that a definition should be controlled simply by what these differences, and somehow, I think there might be more differences between LDS authors and those that are not LDS. But I’ve not yet come up with other differences that make sense.

What have I missed? What differences do you see?

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5 thoughts on “What’s the Difference?”

  1. Excellent and thought-provoking post.

    There are many other lenses through which one could view the “LDS” element of a work. For example (from the reader’s perspective): Is there some dimension of the writer’s work that you understand differently, perhaps more completely than other readers, knowing that the writer is LDS and what you know about what being LDS means? Many of Orson Scott Card’s works for a wider market meet this criterion.

    From the perspective of the author, I think it’s interesting to ask what the author’s gospel-based reason is for writing–perhaps more interesting than to ask how gospel-consistent standards influence the work. The latter has to do with what and how we write. The former has to do with why we write.

  2. .

    Interesting point, Jonathan. It’s true that I read books by known-LDS authors differently; sometimes this gets in the way of my enjoying the book. I know this is true of many LDS readers, notably those appalled by the raciness of Twilight of the downright evil of Orson Scott Card.

    The way it gets in my way is different, but it did make it hard for me to enjoy, say, The Marketing of Sister B whose faults were exacerbated by being about the sort of people I am. My standards are generally higher for LDS fiction. Which can be problematic.

  3. I agree with Jonathan. What I find most interesting is fiction by LDS authors that grapples with issues and questions that have a particularly Mormon flavor to them and/or that draw on Mormon doctrine/history/symbolism etc. to add dimension and texture to their work. I’m looking for those extra allusions, resonances and movements that grab me as a literary critic, a fan of fiction, and as a Mormon.

  4. I’m looking for those extra allusions, resonances and movements that grab me as a literary critic, a fan of fiction, and as a Mormon.

    Even if it’s couched in something that makes you uncomfortable to read?

  5. It depends. Generally, if it makes *me* uncomfortable to read then it’s pushing boundaries that go way beyond certain Mormon norms, which means the Mormon resonances will be less tied in to the LDS core. I suppose I could find some value in such works, but they wouldn’t be my first choice.

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