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Tell A Story, Teach the Thing

“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.” Margaret Atwood According to a study, 65% of our daily conversations are based on storytelling. Nonfiction authors: How does this information affect how you’re structuring your book? If it’s a memoir, remembering to include stories clearly won’t be an […]

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story tips for authors

“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.” 

Margaret Atwood

According to a study, 65% of our daily conversations are based on storytelling.

Nonfiction authors: How does this information affect how you’re structuring your book?

If it’s a memoir, remembering to include stories clearly won’t be an issue. But for business, personal and professional development books, and other forms of nonfiction, sometimes it’s easy to “think” you’re including enough stories.

Alas, when you do a scan of your manuscript and start measuring the ratio of stories to other content, you see page after page of teaching, sandwiched between an alarmingly scant number of stories.

You discover that you’ve written a “should” sandwich!

What No Longer Works

The “should” approach to nonfiction book writing might have been acceptable at one point. It was popular in the heyday of self help and business “how to” books, when readers were inundated with a torrent of helpful “shoulds” meant to better ourselves, our lives, and our businesses.

But not unlike the giant shoulder pads of the same time – this just doesn’t work anymore. (Although I recently heard, much to my dismay, that shoulder pads are having a comeback.) 

The “all shoulds with scant story” structure of book simply doesn’t hold readers’ attention. Think about the last nonfiction book you read that was heavy on the teaching and light on story.

How well did that book hold your attention? How long did it take for you to finish that book? How many excuses did you make to yourself about why you kept putting it aside?

As authors, story is THE most valuable tool we have in our writing arsenal to hold a reader’s attention. And with the popularity of binge watching quality TV shows via streaming, if your book is light on story, your readers will notice.

The Solution

Therefore, when in doubt, about how to make a point, teach a lesson or convey an idea – tell a story. It’s also the perfect segue into the rest of your book’s content. 

Commit this to memory: Tell a story, teach the thing.

Repeat for the length of your book. You will likely end up elaborating on that purposefully oversimplified structure – but it’s a valid starting point and a useful mantra while you’re writing and struggling to figure out where to go next: Tell a story, teach the thing.

If 65% of our daily conversations are based on storytelling – the percentage should be equal to or greater than that in books.

Tell a story, teach the thing.

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