As Christians and writers, we want what we do to make a difference. We want what we do to mean something. We want to influence people. In that pursuit, there is a very common mistake that we tend to make. It’s easy. It’s understandable. It’s also one of the best ways to keep people from being affected by your story.
It’s the sacrifice of story to message.
The message behind a story is important. Each book, each movie, even each song, communicates a worldview. Your story will have a message whether you want it there or not.
Whether you make an effort to put it there or not.
Because of this, because of the unconscious slant that each story, no matter how trivial, casts upon the world, when someone writes a story that is specifically designed to transmit a message, it feels forced. And we can all tell.
From Aasop’s Fables to modern Christian movies, these stories have a moral, and it’s often summarized at the end in a mini-sermon. To make sure everyone gets it. Sometimes there is no sermon, but the entire story has a preachy feel to it, and people will walk away feeling like they’ve been condescended to. There can be a place for stories like this. Aasop’s Fables, for example, have been around for centuries, and people appreciate them for what they are: short stories that are supposed to illustrate a moral.
But in most stories, the effort the storyteller is making to communicate a point backfires. Because when someone is focusing on the message their story has, they’re not focusing on the story itself. And that’s bad. Because then people don’t read your book for the story. They read it for the message. Which means that the only people who read your book will be those who already agree with the point you are making. You will not change anyone.
The best messages are those that are so real, so much a part of the story, so much an unconscious pouring out of the author’s worldview, that the story they are contained in is read by everyone, even those who disagree with the message that comes through. Like the Chronicles of Narnia, read across the world by people from all kinds of religions, even though it communicates a definite Christian worldview. Narnia is not popular because of its message. It’s popular because of its story. And that story becomes a vehicle for the Christianity of the writer to touch people who would never pick up a book because of it’s “Christian message.”
Write stories. Write stories from your heart, your life, pouring from the way you think. And those stories will have a message. If you want to make that message stronger, do it in the edits and rewrites. But when you write your story, focus on the story. Focus on the plot, on the characters. They are what will take your message to the world.