I have vivid memories of the day the Story Embers team sat down together and hashed out the core philosophies behind engaging Christian fiction.
We’d launched the website only three months ago, so we were still in the process of mapping out our vision and long-term goals. I presented a simple discussion prompt for an activity at our first annual staff retreat—but it ended up leading to a much more meaningful project.
After many rounds of coffee and mounds of notes, the first draft of what would become our Christian Storytellers Manifesto took form. We spent a couple months seeking input from authors we respected and doing extensive revisions, then we released the fifteen resolutions to the public in early October 2018.
But now that three years have passed, some of you may still be wondering how the CSM can help you thrive. A document like this is pointless if it never translates to action.
We recently surveyed our audience to see how signers have applied the CSM to their writing, and today I’m going to highlight the five differences it’s made in their spiritual lives, mindsets, and relationships.
1. Writers Use the Manifesto to Remind Them to Focus on the Destination
When you’re in the thick of character or plot development, you may start to doubt the value of fiction. It’s like when you’re on a hike and the miles of trees ahead block the view at the top. Why are you investing so much effort into climbing up there?
On a long journey, you’re bound to become weary, trip and fall, and lose your sense of direction. That’s why displaying the CSM in a writing space has kept several writers, like Andrea, motivated: “I have it framed in my room where I can see it most of the time. It has immensely helped me to stay on track, especially when I’m tempted to look toward myself instead of God.”
“Out of sight, out of mind” is true about many aspects of life. But so is the opposite principle. The more something is in sight, the better you’ll retain it, as Jaden demonstrates: “I often look at the manifesto and read it, just reminding myself of what I’m supposed to do, called to do. It helps me refocus when I’ve lost focus.”
A physical, visible printout will increase the CSM’s power to shape you. I have a decorative copy hanging above my desk that’s available for download on the CSM homepage.
2. Writers Use the Manifesto as Inspiration to Study How the Bible Depicts Specific Topics
The CSM’s preamble describes writers as sub-creators who “reflect and reveal God’s story.” God’s fingerprints cover all of human history. But Scripture records the most important events, and when you treat it as a model for rich storytelling, you’ll better understand the CSM’s ideals.
The biggest transformation the CSM has triggered in me is how I examine Scripture at new levels. Last fall, we published an article series based on the eighth resolution, which encourages writers “to paint traces of hope in even the darkest situations.” Meditating on the Bible’s approach to thorny issues in books as disparate as Ruth and Judges has given me clarity on how to balance light and darkness in my own stories.
Writers who don’t dig deeper into the CSM than an initial read-through often fail to internalize it. But when you set Scripture alongside it, you’ll know how to enhance your portrayals of human beings and the troubles they face.
3. Writers Use the Manifesto to Guide Their Prayers
I’ll be talking about prayer at length within the next couple weeks, so I’ll save my thunder for that article! But I will say this: to cultivate the habits the CSM endorses, you first need a close relationship with the One it’s about.
For Anastasia, prayer is central to following the CSM: “I try to remember to pray for God’s wisdom before I start writing, offering it to Him to use for His glory.” Katy adds, “Before I write, I pray that God will guide my imagination and lead me in storytelling so that I can positively affect people and lead them closer to Him.”
Gillian Bronte Adams guest posted here a few years ago and shared her favorite requests to bring to God—all of which align perfectly with the CSM. Whether you’re in a stage of struggling or succeeding right now, your writing will benefit from communion with your Heavenly Father.
4. Writers Use the Manifesto as a Lens to Evaluate Good and Bad Stories
Mastering a skill requires more than memorizing the theory that’s behind it. You need to be able to recognize the technique in practice, and you can train yourself by choosing one of the CSM’s resolutions to keep in the back of your mind while reading. Perhaps you’re interested in how the author crafts prose that “points to the splendor of God’s created order” or characters who represent “the full human experience in all its beauty and depravity.”
Thanks to the CSM, Chris notices and appreciates subtlety more than he did before: “I’ve begun to look closer at stories written by both Christians and non-Christians, searching for themes that point toward ultimate truth and God without being on-the-nose. I’ve also become more confident at applying the gospel to my own writing without being preachy.”
Picking apart poor stories can be just as profitable, because you’ll learn lots of mistakes to avoid. No matter the caliber of the story, though, comparing it to the CSM’s standards will expose strengths and weaknesses that you may not have identified otherwise.
5. Writers Use the Manifesto to Connect with Each Other
Pursuing a vision is easier when you have others around you who can cheer you on and hold you accountable. After signing the CSM, Chris realized that he wasn’t isolated anymore: “I’m now part of a larger family of Christian storytellers who are committed to combining truth with quality stories. I even shared the manifesto with a songwriter friend, and despite the difference in market and format, he was very inspired and decided to follow Story Embers.”
As I’ve discussed the CSM with other staff members and collaborated with them on article series, I’ve grown exponentially as a storyteller. Sometimes they have insights on a resolution that I don’t!
If you’re hoping to grow through the CSM, don’t huddle in a corner. Find writers who are dedicated to the same values and work on sharpening each other. Our forum is a friendly place to start that kind of conversation.
Embracing Your Potential as a Christian Storyteller
We purposefully revolve many of our article series, summits, and other initiatives around individual resolutions from the CSM because one of our primary goals as a site is to equip you to achieve its vision. We don’t want you to scroll through it once, type your name into the signature box, and never think about it again.
Ultimately, though, taking up the mantle of the CSM is a decision you have to make yourself.
Does it stir up a desire to impact others, to celebrate truth and beauty, to challenge misconceptions? If so, how are you going to act on those aspirations?
Reading an article (like this one), agreeing with its points, and forgetting about it as soon as you close your browser is something everyone does in our internet-driven culture. But it doesn’t produce real change.
How will you stretch yourself today so that tomorrow you’re a stronger Christian storyteller?
Josiah DeGraaf is the summit & marketing director at Story Embers and the program director of The Young Writer. He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations and loves to take normal people, put them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then force them to make difficult choices. Someday he hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, and themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s. In the meantime, you can find him teaching young writers at the Young Writer’s Workshop or writing short stories at his website as he works toward achieving these goals.