By Les Stobbe
I’m constantly amazed by the fixation of fiction writers on novels, as if that is the noblest expression of the art of fiction writing. Yet there are a variety of other opportunities to employ fiction to present the life-giving message of Jesus Christ. Let me illustrate with my experiences.
In my first real job in journalism I accepted the challenge of becoming the founding editor of a denominational weekly, an English equivalent of a nearly 100-year-old German language weekly for Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada. As a 25-year-old I wrote an editorial every week, enlisting and training local church reporters, enlisting pastors to write a devotional, and, oh yes, enlisting a children’s story writer. There were, however, times when no story arrived in time–and suddenly I turned into a children’s fiction writer. I had been a voracious reader from the first grade on, consuming up to five biographies, animal stories, novels, per week by the time I entered sixth grade, so stories came naturally.
Fifteen years later I had become editorial director of Moody Press when our back door neighbor climbed over the fence and knocked on our door. He had come, Paul said, to ask if I would write a preteen Bible study for boys in Christian Service Brigade. Their usual writer had again not met his deadline.
“How soon do you need it,” I asked.
“Within four days,” he replied.
“I’ll get it for you,” I said, remembering that I had spent a couple of years working as a Brigade volunteer with boys that age–and our son was that age as well.
Paul left me a theme and Bible passage, so I headed for my Royal portable typewriter. I knew boys that age loved stories of other boys their age who were physically active, sort of like the boys in the Sugar Creek Gang stories I had read years earlier. So instead of writing a biblical exposition I illustrated the biblical theme with a story. For ten years I wrote eight fictional stories a year for Dash Magazine, with every story in four segments, each taking the story to a climax, followed by questions on the biblical story. The last segment wrapped up the story. Lively illustrations accompanied each story. Parents not only had their boys read the story, they used stories and questions for daily devotions.
Twenty years later I had Christian Herald Books release Preteen Bible Exploration, a collection of my Dash Magazine stories, supplemented by stories I wrote for girls. A bookstore owner reported children’s workers were using the stories in the book version. Then I discovered that the Billy Graham Association had purchased a quantity and were using them as second bounce follow-up Bible studies for preteens accepting Christ as Savior at crusades. What a reward for using fiction as a tool to touch preteen boys with biblical values.
Another ten years later I was given the opportunity to ghostwrite an apologetic book featuring give and take on the veracity of biblical stories. My assignment was to not only provide the text but also recreate in fictionalized form each biblical story under consideration. The ten years of writing fiction for preteens helped me recreate readable versions of biblical events for a book that ended up on a New York publisher’s list.
You don’t need to write a novel to reach people with His Story. It may start with a story you write for your children or grandchildren–or one of the take-home Sunday school papers.
A Literary Agent for 23 years, Les Stobbe has been denominational weekly editor, book editor, book club vice-president, journal editor, curriculum managing editor, and president of a book publishing house. He has written curriculum, journalism lessons, 14 books and hundreds of magazine articles. His website is at www.stobbeliterary.com
Dear Mr. Stobbe,
Thank you so very much for your much needed post. I started out as a fiction writer by writing stories for children’s take-home papers and magazines. I agree that this venue is a powerful one for reaching children with the Gospel message. For one thing, writers often reach much larger audiences through magazines than through book sales.
Thank you for bringing this topic to our attention. Personally, it is a confirmation to me since I was recently going through my files for short stories to send out both as new submissions and as reprints.
Many blessings to you!
MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA
Truth through Fiction ®
The Madonna of Pisano
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You are so right, Les Stobbe. Stories are the best way to reach children…and adults as well. Great post!
By the way, I wrote my first short story on a portable Royal typewriter, too.
I prefer to read a story rather than a book. If I cannot see myself right with the characters then I tend to not continue the book. For instance right now I am reading Edward Webster’s book Soul of Toledo. Absolutely fantastic, and I find myself forgetting that I am not part of this story. Incredible!
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