Two and a half years ago, we founded Story Embers with the goal to train Christian writers to not only be strong in their faith but also in their craft.
We had an ambitious vision for how fiction could embody both meaning and excellence, and we hoped to motivate the Christian writing community to pursue those ideals. The three initiatives we launched with became our ongoing strategy.
Over time, however, God gave us better clarity about who we are as a team, what kind of projects we should be pouring our energy into, and where we need to go to equip as many writers as possible. Ever since our Authentic Characters Summit this past April, we’ve been hard at work preparing for the next stage of our journey here at Story Embers.
Today we’re releasing a revamp of several portions of the site, including our home page, about page, quiz, and brand-new academy. These revisions reflect our new understanding of the purpose we believe we’re meant to fulfill.
Let me walk you through the changes and the reasons behind each one.
Our New Quiz
According to our email data, most of you joined us through our Writing Craft Quiz, which allowed you to assess whether you’re a beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, expert, or master writer.
So why are we retiring it?
Though many writers appreciated the chance to discover their skill level, the quiz’s accuracy varied. We ran tests where we asked a writer to take it herself and then enlist a critique partner or mentor to take it for her. When we compared the two assessments, we found that the results often disagreed. Writers with ten or more years of experience could evaluate themselves objectively, but writers with less practice tended to overestimate their abilities.
After discussing and implementing different fixes for the quiz, we had a brainstorm: Instead of trying to supply an infallible self-assessment, what if we pinpointed a specific area of writing that the user struggles with?
And so our Writing Weakness Quiz was born.
It contains most of the same questions as the previous version, except with the goal of indicating where you need to improve. Since the score is relative, even if you overrate your proficiency in each category, the result will balance itself out. And it will give you tangible feedback you can immediately apply.
(Miss the old quiz? While we aren’t advertising it anymore, anyone who benefitted from it can continue to access it here.)
Our New Core Process for Helping Writers
The Writing Weakness Quiz is the backbone of our new growth strategy for writers. Over the past couple years, we’ve experimented with multiple initiatives and shifted our focus to the ones that produced the most impact.
Together, these initiatives form the Story Embers Growth Strategy:
Step #1: We help you diagnose your biggest weakness and match you with resources to strengthen it.
Step #2: We invite you to commit to the high standards outlined in our Christian Storytellers Manifesto.
Step #3: We offer you constant opportunities to learn through the articles we publish on our blog every week.
Step #4: We provide intensive training through our annual virtual summits.
This new strategy is also why we added an academy tab to our menu. It’s a hub that will host all our summit recordings, along with minicourses like Cultivating a Mindset for Success. Our long-term goal is to build a curriculum that Christian storytellers can enroll in to further their education.
Moving forward, you can expect to see us investing most of our time in these four initiatives (including active planning for our 2021 summit!) as we seek to empower you to write compelling stories for God’s glory.
Our New Messaging
I’ve talked about the features we’re rolling out, but perhaps the most pivotal change we’re making is in our viewpoint. After reflecting on the subject over the years, we feel we’ve been overzealous at criticizing Christian fiction. We’ve painted its faults with too broad of a brush.
The more books we’ve read in the genre, the more we’ve realized that the issues we thought were common aren’t as widespread as they were in the past (or in Christian filmmaking). We’ve also come to recognize that our individual opinions are often subjective. Some novels are bad, but just because we dislike certain ones doesn’t necessarily indicate that’s the case. So we’re going to stop using generalizations like “most Christian fiction is bland” or “most Christian fiction is preachy.” The genre is much more diverse and complex than that.
To phrase it another way: we’re determined to dwell less on defective Christian fiction and more on effective Christian fiction.
Now, don’t misunderstand: we still oppose preachy messages, cardboard characters, and clichéd plots. We won’t hesitate to call out the mistakes we notice. Our values aren’t changing.
But sometimes critics fixate so much on the wrong techniques that they lose sight of the right techniques. And while our manifesto has always guided us, we want to encourage Christian storytellers to spend less time complaining about problems and more time working toward solutions. It’s not that problems don’t exist. But complaining that isn’t paired with action won’t get you anywhere.
Our Next Steps
We’ll likely continue to evolve and transform over the years so we can better serve our audience. These changes are part of that process, and we look forward to seeing how God teaches us as we strive to teach others.
Where should you start exploring the new iteration of Story Embers? Our home page and teaser trailer showcases the new heart of the site. Our academy page consolidates all of our video content into one convenient place. And our about page shares the backstory that brought us here.
We’re privileged to have the opportunity to help you enthrall readers through honest storytelling that depicts both beauty and brokenness.
Now go watch our new teaser trailer describing our approach to Christian storytelling.
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.