Monday, March 6, 2017

The Power of Story, Part II by Annette M. Irby

The phrase "Once upon a time" written on paper.*

Like we discussed last month in Part I, story is powerful. Have you ever watched a movie, then left the theater feeling changed (for better or for worse)? I recall experiences of leaving theaters and feeling oddly disconnected from reality as if I couldn’t readjust, which isn’t preferable if the movie has few redeeming qualities. Stories can change us. They hook us emotionally and help us rethink our paradigms, perhaps toward confirmation. Perhaps away.  

We writers can use story as a tool, but here are some cautions: 

* Avoiding absolute statements: Life isn’t red or green. Life is purple or blue or orange. We learn this the longer we live. Does that mean there isn’t a difference between right and wrong? Of course not. But the purple-ness of life shows us mortals that we were never meant to serve in God’s place as judge. Who knows everything? If you use absolute statements, you risk many things. You may make yourself look foolish. You may offend others. (Of course you may offend others anyway. Even Jesus, the sinless One, offended people.) You may later learn you were wrong about that absolute statement. Then what? We can’t always go back and change them. We have a responsibility, and ideally we’ll walk out that duty with humility. Helpful hint: find a relatable element in the message you want to convey and leverage that in your story. Find the universal theme and watch how using it can help readers connect and even open themselves to seeing your deeper themes and purpose. 

* Avoiding preachiness: Raise your hand if you’ve closed a novel when an author started preaching. That approach to story (and I’m not necessarily talking about a scene that contains a sermon) can be heavy-handed and unappealing. Many editors flag those elements in a novel and request rewrites. Why? Because fiction isn’t non-fiction, and preachiness has no place in entertainment. 

* Avoiding full explanations (resist the urge to explain/RUE) (which may stem from a motivation to control). Instead, let readers draw their own conclusions. Readers are smart. Plus, what speaks to one reader may not speak to the next. Let him or her take what they will from your words. Give up control. Jesus didn’t explain every parable, in fact He rarely explained any. But when the disciples asked Him to, he did. (See the story of the leaven of the Pharisees.) Best to let God work through the story as He wants to rather than strive for a certain outcome. There’s beautiful humility in creating our product (novel) and then handing that creation to God to do with as He wills. 

You have a reason for writing your novel—a message. But handling that message takes finesse and caution. I recommend finding critique partners with whom you can share your vision for your book, and who will be honest in how your attempts are coming across in the story itself. Sometimes our passion for a certain theme can come across as preachy or controlling (those absolute statements again), whether in the novel or through our social media presence. It’s in those moments that we might step back and consider the power of words and the innate power of story and proceed with caution.

Your turn: Have you read a book (non-fiction or fiction) that changed your mind? Did the author use a certain technique that you now use in your own writing? What ways have you found to get your message across in a palatable way? 

Write on, friends!


Husband Material by Annette M. Irby

Wyatt Hansen has no fears about commitment, but only three years have passed since his beloved wife died, and he can't bring himself to break their annual dinner date—that is until he meets restaurant owner, Lara Farr. Lara doesn't have time for romance; she has a business to run. At least that's what she tells herself so she doesn't have to admit that commitment scares her. But Lara's business is failing, and it just may take a miracle—or marketing analyst, Wyatt Hansen—to save it. Can Wyatt rescue Lara’s restaurant, help her overcome her fears, and prove he is good husband material?


Annette M. Irby

Annette M. Irby is a freelance editor and Christian fiction author who dabbles in gardening and photography. She has completely fallen in love with her grandson. She enjoys spending time with her family and husband of over twenty-five years. You can learn more about Annette by visiting her website or her page here on Seriously Write. 

* photo credit: the awesome people at Pixabay


  1. Hi Annette, I love the statement about giving up control. And yes, I have some close to tossing preachy and judgmental books across the room! Wishing Husband Material many readers!

    1. Thank you, Tanya! How kind. Isn't it funny how preachiness can hit us when we're reading fiction? Happy reading and writing!

  2. Great article, Annette! You're right on. I think it's important for us to realize that life isn't always so black and white. Most of the time, it's gray, and I think the older we get, the easier it can be to see that.Experiences bring better understandings of what it means to be human.

    I enjoy a good message woven throughout a book, but I certainly don't like being preached to. I don't think anyone does. ;-)

    1. Thank you, Dawn! We're so on the same page here. I love how in your books the messages come across with hope and grace and a light touch. That way readers can more easily consider your themes. Write on, friend!

  3. Annette, I loved it when you teach. I never fail to learn something useful.

    When I was young the world was much more black and white. As I've aged the colors have changed. Hmm, I wonder how that happened. ;-)

    I honestly haven't read too many preachy books, but I much prefer books I can relate to or that make me think. Often those messages really stick with me.

    Your new book sounds wonderful!


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