“A story consists of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he confronts and solves.”
Simpler yet: A good story consists of characters, conflict and resolution.
That’s every good novel, every good short story, every good TV drama, every good movie.
And if the story ends in redemption, even better.
What’s a movie or book that’s a powerful redemption story?
Writer Tom Hallman says: “Find the parable.” If you can find confirmation of a basic human truth behind an already compelling story, that’s gold. The story’s about one thing, but it’s really about something a lot bigger.
Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: “All good art is about something deeper than it admits.”
And that’s the tricky part in writing about missions: not admitting it. Our instincts tell us to slam the reader or the viewer over the head with our message, so they don’t miss it. Instead, give them just enough compelling information to figure it out for themselves. This is where so many Christian books, movies and yes, stories about missionaries get it so wrong. They’re propaganda, and people can smell it from a mile away.
Don’t tell people what to think. That is not a journalist’s job. Lead them far enough that they can find the truth for themselves. Doing that effectively is the mark of a good storyteller — and a good journalist.
How does all of this translate to news stories about what God is doing through missions work?
Characters, conflict and resolution. And if we’re lucky, parable.
Once you develop an eye for this pattern, you’ll start spotting these stories everywhere.