When you share an experience and personalize it, you create interest. Think about the times you’ve sat in big auditoriums, bored out of your mind, as speakers drone on with facts. Suddenly, a new speaker takes the podium and begins with, “When I left my house this morning to come here, something happened to me that made me think about everything you’ve been talking about. I…” You perk up. You sit up straighter in your seat. You lean forward. You actually listen, curious about what happened. As a fiction writer, I can embellish stories—change them a bit to fit what I’m writing.
Although I couldn’t change the facts in nonfiction, I still used story. Here’s how. In both interviewing books, I created examples from real interviews. These examples helped the reader understand my points and also made the learning stickier. In the book about communication, I used dialogue and real cases to make the points. Again, those situations with people—confrontations I’d seen in my career—engaged the readers. Finally in the book on social media, my co-author and I found cases and examples to make our points.
They have certain attributes that enable them to convey their experiences with gusto and charm. Nonetheless, if you work hard, you too can become adept at telling stories.
Here are some tips:
1) Make the story personal. Even if it didn’t actually happen to you, tell it as if it did. Describe places and names your audience recognizes.
2) Use examples that fit your audience. You wouldn’t want to tell a story full of scientific information to a group of ninth graders.
3) Don’t get hung up on details. The audience need not know the color of the person’s hair or to whom the person is related. (Unless those details add color to your story). Only share details as needed. Too much detail gets boring.
4) Tell your story with passion and emotion. Use your nonverbal skills to emphasize points. Your voice plays a key role here. A monotone, no matter how good the story, will lull your listeners to sleep.
So, you might ask, “How can I tell a written story with passion?” Indeed, it’s harder when you use words with no visual or vocal cues to tell your story, but you can do it.
Instead of saying, “He went to the store,” say, “He raced to the store as if chased by a swarm of bees.” When one races, we get a verbal picture. Writing gives you a chance to imagine the story in your mind’s eye. Once the image forms, ask yourself, “How can I express that image on paper?”
Here are three tips for writing powerful stories:
- Use strong verbs. Verbs that show action versus passive verbs or the to-be verb (is, are, was, were).
- Use strong nouns. Nouns that imply action . Here’s an example. “She’s a dynamo vs. She’s a hard worker.”
- Learn the art of writing with similes and metaphors. See my previous posts.