What an Excellent Story is NOT

Why storytelling?

At some point in our chosen career as wordsmiths, we inevitably come across this question. Be it a well-meaning relative desperate to make conversation, a shocked friend who believes you’re wasting your future, or a genuinely curious random acquaintance who just ‘wants to know’, it always pops up somewhere.

For a good first half of my writing career, my answer was “Because I want to write good stories that make people into Christians.”
Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well… actually… yes. And I was soon to discover it.

I meant what I said; I truly did. But it seemed like the harder I tried to make my stories Christian, the more forced, cliché, and boring they became. Whole chapters were taken up by lengthy sermons preached to weeping villains by white and holy children who appeared out of nowhere to turn my evil overlords towards the truth… and with it, my own passion and vitality were slowly but surely slipping away. Why had I ever wanted to write? There was no fulfillment of a beautiful story here; no truth— at least no truly resonant truth.

I tried so hard.

I mean, look how Christian my work was! Look how well I was defending the faith; look how easily anyone reading my book could come to Christ!

… But then… who would want to come to the Christ who lived so dull, flat, and lifeless in my words?

I was missing one key truth about storytelling, and that truth makes all the difference.

A Story is Not a Sermon

It’s not. It’s really not. If you want to defend your faith like a lawyer, write sermons. If you want to lay out the logical and theological defense for your faith, become a preacher or a professor of theology.

Sermons are for the mind.
Stories are for the heart.

You are not called upon to devote your entire story to a thesis in defense of your faith.
Just as the gospel must be shared with compassion in person, truth must also be shared with compassion in writing.
Theological disquisitions are not compassionate, especially when the reader was expecting a heart-gripping story and instead has sermon after sermon rammed down their throat.

You are only called upon to write with excellence and compassion— to tell stories with excellence and compassion. That is its own Christian witness.

In fact, you are not only not called upon to preach with your story, but also given a completely opposite example.
Christ himself chose to teach in parables, and He did not spend the entire parable explaining what it meant and why it was beautiful and right and people should totally believe it and get saved.
He told His stories with compassion, knocking gently on the doors of people’s hearts, and let the truth speak for itself.

By all means, extol Christ. By all means, devote your stories to glorifying Him and teaching people to see Him even in the smallest circumstances and want to seek Him more.

Just remember— the strength of a sermon is the downfall of a story, and Christian excellence looks different for both. Know the difference. It could make all the difference for you.

 

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11 thoughts on “What an Excellent Story is NOT

  1. I know a girl who just started to explore the world of writing, and this is something she has a big problem with. She keeps coming to me to give her advice, and though I know what I mean in my head, it’s sometimes hard to bring it out in a coherent and understandable fashion. This basically solidifies everything I need to tell her. Thank you, Kate. I think I might just shove this off on her.

    Like

      1. … Okay I was gonna say Great Jedi Writing Master but I hafta admit Grim Juggling Wordsmith Mutant isn’t half bad…

        Like

  2. I think what you say here applies to all writers and their stories; they shouldn’t get so caught up in trying to work on a theme, lesson, or their world view of what’s important to the detriment of telling an entertaining story. Bravo! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Those things are important (in fact, no story is truly powerful without them) but it’s like with a painting— if you focus too much on one part, that one overdone part distracts from the rest of the work and kills its beautiful subtlety.

      Liked by 1 person

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