It’s been too long since I wrote a post ripping the late fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks a new one. So, let’s do that!

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care if someone wrote books I didn’t click with. One person’s lousy writing is another’s treasure. But in the case of “Dr.” Sparks, this isn’t just about bad writing or books that aren’t my style at all. Since more than a few people, esp. in her target audience, believe these are true stories, she was dangerous and unethical in addition to a fraud.

Some of her books are marginally better than others. They’re not all pure horse dung. But with the obvious exception of the 25 real entries from Alden Barrett in Jay’s Journal, they all read like the work of an over the hill, extremely conservative and religious person pretending to be a teen.

We now know Sparks lied about her training, education, credentials, experience, etc. People who know what’s what also understand she was the true authors of all those books, and what she did to the poor Barrett family.

I have NO problem with either a real-life or fictional teen being religious, frequently praying, having a close-knit relationship with her or his mother, trying to live a G-rated life, being conservative, etc.

What I DO have an issue with is how Sparks injected this into each and every one of her books, making her characters clones of herself. The way her characters express these things is so unrealistic, ridiculous, over the top, identical.

How to write in the style of “Dr.” Sparks:

1. Always give the time of day at the start of each entry, and every time you return to an entry later in the day.

2. Everyone loves RANDOM CAPS! In fact, readers have even more love for ENTIRE SENTENCES IN ALL CAPS, or, better, yet, COMPLETE PARAGRAPHS IN ALL CAPS!

3. We all love random italics too!

4. The best of both worlds is RANDOM CAPS IN ITALICS!

5. Who doesn’t love excessive exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6. PUT THEM ALL TOGETHER REGULARLY FOR EVEN BETTER, MORE INTENSE WRITING!!!!!!!!!!

7. Repeat words thrice for emphasis; e.g., “We’ve heard he’s loud loud loud” and “My mom is soooo very wonderful. I love love love her.”

8. Randomly use advanced, fancy-sounding words while pretending you have no idea where you heard them. Even better if you use distinctively Mormon concepts and terminology while feigning ignorance about their meanings.

9. At the same time, talk like a preschool kid, with beyond-babyish language. Who wouldn’t believe a 15-year-old ex-gangbanger would say “Goobly-goop-poop”?!

10. Make up baby words and sprinkle in lots of connected nonsense syllables even a doo-wop song would reject, like kit-kit-kit-kat-kat-doodle.

11. Oversimplify complex issues, and solve them in record time.

12. Use the stock line, “Ooh, I’m sooo glad my dear, sweet, precious Mom is MY dear, sweet, precious Mom!”

13. Engage in hardcore, fetishistic maternal worship, where all things Mommykins and mothers are pure, holy, angelic, never negative.

14. Make sure your character comes from a broken home, and depict divorced families as the worst moral crisis ever, bound to lead to all manner of social ills and sins.

15. Trawl through psychology textbooks and after school specials for “serious” lines to sprinkle in, like a mean girl quickly admitting she only acts like an aloof snob who doesn’t want friends because she’s insecure and afraid of rejection.

16. Pack in as many problems as possible, no matter how disconnected.

17. Make your characters mentally much younger; e.g., a 14-year-old who sounds like a 3-year-old.

18. Your characters are never drawn into drug use, premarital sex, pregnancy, gangs, cults, etc., through their own actions. It’s always the fault of bad friends tricking, abusing, exploiting them.

19. Everything is always Magickally alright again after your narrator tearfully confides in Mommykins, who’s amazingly loving, forgiving, accepting, an angel on Earth.

20. Use lines no teen ever would utter, like, “Wowee! Now I know what hormones are!”

21. Immediately apologize for cursing; thinking negative, unappreciative thoughts; or saying less than worshipful things about parents. E.g., “Ew, Mom! You are such a gross bitch!” (Five minutes later.) “ZOMG! How dare I curse at my dear, sweet, precious Mommykins in the pages of my own journal! I’m worse than Hitler! I might as well kill myself now!”

22. Jump into relationships at lightning-speed, and act like you’ve already got a serious, eternal pair-bond with a total stranger.

Beatrice Sparks, I hate you. May you continue to be exposed as the vile fraud you were. Teens learn best by honest examples delivered respectfully, not by being lied to, preached at, scared, and emotionally manipulated.

3 thoughts on “How to write a book in the style of Beatrice Sparks

  1. Might be a good challenge for NaNoWriMo – write in a style as different as possible or specifically write like Sparks. Sparks is easy to imitate and skewer.

    I’ve also seen the Beatrice Sparks style in modern Mormon blogs like That Wife and NieNie occasionally. The FreeJinger lot used to make fun of it.

    Only ever read GO ASK ALICE in 2005. Didn’t read JAY’S STORY or any of the others.

    Think the audience for Sparks might have been similar to Judy Blume’s in that they were fast, quickly consumed and not things you may have thought much about.

    Can also see them being read at Family Game Night or Family Book Night – so parents and grandparents might have read them.

    The concept of the teenager was fairly new when Sparks was first writing her books and counselling.

    3-7 I can credit real teenagers doing every now and then. And L. M. Montgomery’s Emily whose books were written in the 1920s about Late Victorian times. She tried to overcome her habit of using italics and exclamation marks. Though hers were 3 in a group.

    “Goobly-gobbly-pop” – I thought that was rave talk – as in the ravers of the late 1980s and early 1990s and other people in alt-culture. Also it gives me a strong impression of Virginia C. Andrews who was famous for “golly-gee” and “dally-pop”. Or someone who was a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop and conscious uncoupling…

    Very often these neologisms might spread in a teen group.

    “11. Oversimplify complex issues, and solve them in record time.”

    Again, TV and movies do this a lot, especially sitcoms. I am probably thinking of 1970s Spark rather than 2000s Spark as such.

    I wondered if the three-year-old sounding teenagers were a way to draw in pre-teens who wanted to be teenagers but not that kind of teenager [or even a teenager who actually behaves like a teenager]?

    It all seems like the Theosophic counselling or Alcoholics Anonymous literature [or any of the Anonymous groups for that matter].

    Thinking about diary as costume versus diary as testimony or confession – which is where the Mother stuff comes in and especially the idealised treatments.

    And again there is an appeal when it comes to the idealised Mother-figure among pre-teens and some teens.

    Also the concept of the “threenager”. [three-year-old who behaves like a teenager] Perhaps the parents who talk about that might have read some Sparks in their youth.

    Number 18 and 22 are the most problematic for me.

    “18. Your characters are never drawn into drug use, premarital sex, pregnancy, gangs, cults, etc., through their own actions. It’s always the fault of bad friends tricking, abusing, exploiting them.”

    That all the people involved in this were influenced by bad peers I could not credit. And it is important to know that good friends would not go out of their way to trick, abuse and exploit you or anyone you know.

    Thinking more about the religious audience for Sparks: not just Mormons and ex-Mormons; but Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and probably Catholics [lots of parallels].

    Also the Religious Right cast a long shadow over the US in the 1980s and 1990s, as another creative/narrative non-fictioneer has shown.

    “Teens learn best by honest examples delivered respectfully” … true! And there are not so many of these examples around, either in people’s own lives or in books.

    Great things to think about when “writing for a cause” or about a big issue.

    I wonder if she varied 8-10 a bit depending on whether the character would start out using the big words or the baby words and then it would change over time? Or was the voice consistent in that regard? [Stylometrics is good].

    And also how close Sparks was to her mother? Did she see Mormon mothers be undervalued and that was why she did this inside and outside the community?

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