I Learned My Lesson Well

When I swore I would never write again, I experienced intense depression. It felt like something had died in me. For the next week, my heart mourned as I went about my regular mom routine – taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, and shopping.

This post is part 2 of: “I Have a Tale to Tell

I remember going to JoAnn Fabrics and seeing in the store window the successfully completed projects of talented seamstresses and artists. I had this surreal moment of thought. In hindsight, I recognize that this was another of those interactions with His Spirit. All of these artists had developed their talents so that they could create these works of art. Why couldn’t I develop mine? Why couldn’t I have something to offer too?
I felt a deep sadness. But I also saw a sliver of light and truth. My desire to write a moving story was similar to an artist’s desire to paint a masterpiece or a seamstress’s desire to sew a beautiful garment. Why was I receiving a message that I didn’t belong here or that I was trying to do something that was reserved for an elite few? If I was willing to put in the work, could I not also develop the ability to succeed?

After a week or two of walking around in a dark haze, I finally asked my husband for a priesthood blessing. In it, I was instructed not to give up and that this dream of mine was of God. I shouldn’t pay attention to the criticisms of man. Scriptures about Nephi building a ship while his brothers doubted and mocked him were referenced (1 Nephi 17).

“And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.” -1 Nephi 17:17
I was also directed to go to God for training and instruction in my writing process like Nephi did when he was building something he had never before built.
This priesthood blessing rekindled my hope. Knowing that God believed in me and wanted me to write was powerful and sustaining.

The Structure of Story

Over the next few weeks, I prayed intently and frequently for direction. It came to my mind that I needed to learn the structure of story. I realized that I had been getting too expanded in my writing. I wasn’t paying enough attention to the summarized plot – the framework of my story. It was like trying to decorate a house without first making sure the foundation and framework were in place.

Another way to explain this is that there are outline writers and there are discovery writers. I was a discovery writer. But the Lord showed me that I would be more successful if I found the balance between those two methods.

After learning this, I remembered a booklet on story theory that Tracy Hickman, our workshop host for science fiction and fantasy writers, gave me at the 2004 BYU writer’s conference. I took it out and reread it carefully. It spoke about the Hero’s Journey.

A hero who is called to an adventure to obtain a goal, leaves home, experiences all kinds of adversity and temptations, fails and suffers intensely, is then atoned for (saved, brought back to life), is transformed through this process, obtains the goal, becomes part of the atonement for others, and returns home victorious.


Dramatica, A Theory of Story

Tracy Hickman’s booklet also included some details from a story theory called Dramatica by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley. As I read about this theory, I became very interested in it. I purchased the Dramatica book and the software. I spent the next year studying with these mentors and attempting to write my story using their guidance. But as I did this, I found myself trying to get a bird’s eye perspective of what they were proposing. They were presenting so many different concepts that I often felt bewildered. Something inside me was driven to organize it all. I asked questions like: How did they come up with this? How do they know that these are the relationships between words? What are the relationships between words?

So, I chose to slow down and pick apart each idea that they presented.

The Dramatica theory is based on words and the semantics behind them. So, in slowing down, I wrote down each of the words and definitions from their “Dramatica Vocabulary” list that they provided in their reference section. On one level they divided words by synonyms and antonyms. On another, they divided them by other variables like character traits, character roles, and plot dynamics. They visually arranged the words by these semantic relationships into a quadrant diagram – a Chess Set.

As I wrote the definitions down, a correction, a translation, a connection, or an additional facet would come into my mind. So I wrote those down as well. After doing this for a while, I noticed that the definitions suggested that there was a balance between any two antonyms. But they did not make a space in their model for the words that represented that semantic balance.

They used four quadrants or four Chess Sets to organize the words. Each Chess Set was divided into four more quadrants nested inside of it. The authors explained that there were symbiotic and conflicting relationships between each of the words within a single quadrant. It was much more complicated than this but I’m trying to simplify it to show how I was attempting to make sense of it.


The study of semantics and the attempt to create a visual model of the patterns of the meaning behind language completely fascinated me. I tested out their theory by translating their general definitions into specific definitions that I used to describe the characters, plot, and setting of my story. I spent months analyzing the relationships of the concepts in each quadrant. And then I evaluated how one quadrant of meaning compared with another. Dramatica did not instruct me to study like this. I was being guided by the Lord to do it. He was using this model as a tool or a medium to train me in his own way.

For example, the problem in the overall story I was working on was that people had a Fixed Attitude. So, I focused on that quadrant. In my Word document, I styled “Fixed Attitude” with Heading-1:

Fixed Attitude

Then, I wrote down the names of each of the nested quadrants and styled them with Heading-2:

  • Contemplations
  • Impulsive Responses
  • Memories
  • Innermost Desires

I looked at these one at a time. For example, I studied the meaning of the concept of Contemplations.

After that, I added each of the nested quadrants within the Contemplations quadrant and styled these with Heading-3:

  • Appraisals
  • Doubt
  • Investigate
  • Re-appraisal

Under each of the Heading-3 words, I wrote the semantic meaning for all of these words combined. They included all three levels of words like this:

Fixed Attitude



I put these three-layered concepts together to visualize the Fixed Attitude of the dystopian society that my main character was raised in. So, the first question that formed in my mind was: How does the society my character grew up in contemplate (evaluate) the value (appraisal) of a person or thing? This was my answer:

They judge each other by initial appraisals. What you look like on the surface determines your worth and my worth compared to yours. Your clothes, cleanliness, hairstyle, and look on your face. If I come up better than you, then I experience good feelings because it proves I am good and worthy of love. This is the first impression.

Remote Login Education

The Lord remotely logged in like this throughout these writing sessions. He coached me in my mind, directing my thoughts, introducing ideas coupled with the definitions I was studying. I wanted to know what he thought of each concept, especially when there was a question about what was right and wrong. That seemed to be my inherent orientation.

As we differentiated between each of the concepts, we analyzed the marriage, family, and community relationships of the characters in my story. A lot of questions about the society and family I grew up in came up. During my childhood, there were many concepts that I had unconsciously absorbed. We investigated and sifted through them so that I could see what was true and false, right and wrong.

Every morning I got up excited for a new day. I couldn’t wait to study. There was nothing I wanted more than to be with him in this place. There was so much light and love and excitement.

I studied before the kids got up and then after they went to school. While many moms took the opportunity to get a job or go back to college when their kids were all in school, I used it to study with the Lord. Lots of people have their thing. This was mine.

There is much to tell about my role as a mother and a wife. These responsibilities have always been so intensely important to me. That is coming. But I can’t explain that part until I explain this part.

There had been a vague cloud over many values that I had previously and unconsciously formed opinions about. Some were not serving me well in my relationships with God and with others. When we looked directly at them together, the clouds broke up and His values became very clear. My mind gradually sharpened. Doing this every day for several years educated, enlightened, lifted, and completely changed me.

The Compass of Semantics

While I was studying Dramatica from late 2005 to early 2006, I was also prompted to study the scriptures more intently. I wrote each chapter in my own words. We looked for the concepts that we had studied in Dramatica in the histories of the societies that were described in the scriptures.

We summarized and semantically organized words and concepts such as:

Pride, Envy, Doubt, Faith, Hope, Desire, Humility, Gratitude, Confidence, Strength, Weakness, Light, Darkness, Right, Wrong, Sin, Righteousness, Peace, Joy, Energy, etc.

I noticed that people used lots of different words to represent the same semantic concept. I also learned that there were some concepts that the English language didn’t have an accurate descriptive word for. Because of this, some things were very difficult for me to initially see and explain. These were usually intertwined so tightly with negative meanings that it was hard to differentiate between the good and the bad. The Lord helped me surgically separate them. This process improved my relationships with my family and community because I learned to understand people better, to look past their words and behaviors, and see what they were really trying to communicate.

I recognized and sorted hundreds of synonyms and antonyms. I saw that there were semantic antonyms that were more than just black and white. There were multifaceted ways to divide a single concept. I cataloged them in my notebook and in my mind. Summarizing them was always a challenge for me. Sometimes I would summarize words that needed to remain separate. Other times I would keep words separate when they really represented the same concept.

I also looked up hundreds of words in the dictionary and wrote down their definitions, always searching for central patterns. I examined words that I had heard all my life as if it were the first time seeing them. I questioned everything. There were so many values and concepts that had been in my peripheral vision before. During this time, I turned to look at them directly and focus on what they semantically meant and what they meant to me personally. This process completely opened my mind to understand things in a way that I had never even fathomed before.

I am a visual learner so the Lord would often teach me by bringing visual metaphors to my mind. He used things I recognized like the relationship between the earth, sun, and moon. He also used physics, magnets, physical fitness and nutrition, cooking, gardening, weeding, and planting trees. I filled my notebooks with diagrams and sketches of the things he showed me. I could not get enough of Him. I kept asking for more. But to receive more, I had to live by what he was teaching me. I was always falling short, but I kept trying and struggling to master it anyway.

Throughout this continuous study of Dramatica, the scriptures, and the dictionary, and listening to the Lord’s guidance, I started to see visions of a model that was different from the Dramatica quadrant model. It was a summarized structure of all the truth. I saw a compass.

This song describes the way I felt throughout this time: Can’t Take It In by Imogen Heap (Narnia Soundtrack)

Part 3: I Know Where Beauty Lives