I believe that anyone who wants to create a novelization of any scriptural story has got to be their own kind of crazy. First of all, there’s all the research involved. Tons of research! And, depending on when in history the story takes place, there is, quite literally, little to no archaeological evidence or solid knowledge to help build the story and the world. So the author has to fill in the large gaps with imagination, built on traditional views coupled with the little evidence he or she can find. It can create quite a problem for anyone.
And then there is the audience of readers. All of whom have read the stories dozens, if not hundreds, of times. They have their own preconceived notions of how things played out based on Sunday School classes, Seminary teachers and their own imagination. And they’re usually very fickle about their favorite characters. You better not mess with Nephi, from the Book of Mormon, or make Moses anything different than what is in their mind. Well, okay, maybe you can do it with Moses. After all Cecile B. DeMille did a decent job with that.
So why would someone want to take on such an overwhelming challenge? What would drive them to take beloved characters and try to craft an exciting adventure around those stories in the scriptures? I can’t speak for other authors, but I can tell you why I have decided to make the attempt.
I first got the idea while reading the stories of Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon. The battles, the intrigue, the animosity between Moroni and Amalikiah, the friendships between Moroni, Teancum and Helaman. It all just fit very nicely into a great story. And with just a little coaxing had the potential to become a story for the ages. In fact, I worked on a screenplay for the story. That’s how I saw it. Up on the big screen. I think I had stars in my eyes. As I wrote I began to see some problems with the timelines I had created and some other minor points of story structure. I soon abandoned it, but kept the rough drafts and notes.
I moved on and began doing more research and a little writing here and there to practice and start building the world of the Nephites and Lamanites. My focus was on creating characters who were “human.” In my view much of the literature dealing with characters from scripture treated those characters as nearly perfect. They would choose the right in every situation no matter the consequence just because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to see these characters as flawed.
Sometimes we forget that Nephi, Alma, Mosiah, Mormon and all the others were human. Certainly they were prophets as well and were far beyond the usual person in their eternal progression, but they didn’t start out that way. I wanted to get to know the Alma who partied with the other priests. The teenage Nephew who was maybe a prankster or liked to make his family laugh. The extremely patriotic Moroni who maybe spoke out loudly and with authority before he knew all the facts.
It has been fun exploring those ideas. Now I don’t know if this is the way these men were in real life. Chances are, I’m way off in my interpretation. But that’s okay. It helps me to understand them as people as well as prophets. When we understand that even these great men we look up to were still very human — that they struggled with addictions, had trials of faith, and had family problems, just like us — it helps us understand that we can overcome just as they did. When we see they travelled the same paths we are walking now, it gives us hope.
My hope is to convey that message with the writing of these stories. That’s the ultimate goal. The other goals are to fill in gaps in story telling, make connections between characters that maybe aren’t so apparent and tell fun and exciting stories that bring these characters and the times they lived in to life in the reader’s mind.