“Another approach is to just tell a story. It’s such a simple solution, so obvious and unsophisticated, that we often forget that it’s available to us. But narrative is the oldest and most compelling method of holding someone’s attention; everyone wants to be told a story. Always look for ways to convey your information in narrative form.”
(William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well)
Think of your favourite stories – fiction or non-fiction – and how they grab your attention and leave an impression.
(I’m still looking for a better way to store my favourite story lines, either in my head or on my computer, so I can go over the best bits and revisit them forever.)
How often have you read one about human struggle climaxing with triumph over adversity?
For example, a feature story about a new skin product, devised in desperation because of a child’s eczema by an unlikely hero. In this case, a fatigued mum with no background in healing serums.
It is tailored to a specific audience, and the goal is to, firstly, generate interest and, secondly, inspire action.
The strong emotional connection motivates people to make an enquiry or, even better, to search for the product and buy it.
Our brains are attracted to such stories.
The neuroscience explains why: character-driven stories with emotional content provide a better understanding of the key points and result in improved recalls weeks later.
These elements make information persuasive and memorable.
And the most memorable stories use storytelling to connect with readers and make important things interesting.
Feature stories: connecting with people
My favourite feature stories are either bookmarked or emailed to myself, while the hard copies get chucked in an orange fruit box near my desk.
It’s where I keep samples of writing I admire, or have read and loved.
Some stand out, like one about scone recipes from a food writer who has been unable to review restaurants for much of the year because of COVID restrictions.
Another is a story describing how more than four million people in Australia live with a disability.
Some 2.1 million are of working age, including a wheelchair-bound man from the Gold Coast who is profiled.
The writer shows his routine to get ready for work. The people involved. The challenges and frustrations.
It’s filled with descriptive language and tells a deeply personal story of life in a wheelchair.
It’s from early 2019 yet I still remember the story.
It’s powerful, emotional and beautifully written.
But if it had simply stated the facts, without sharing the story, I wouldn’t have connected so strongly.
Fiction: connecting with characters
During this COVID- crazy year, my antidote to stories about coronavirus has been heart-warming fiction.
Often when I get to the end of a journey with a fictional character, the story or some of the passages will sit with me for a day or longer before I have the desire to start another book. I don’t want to let go. I like to revisit scenes or phrases that resonated strongly.
The books I want to remember long after I’ve finished reading have interesting characters or narratives, or well-written words that help move the story forward.
And they’re the ones that have me searching for book sequels or other works by the same writer, in the hope to encounter again whatever made the novel so enjoyable.
Business stories: connecting with clients
This approach to writing can be used by businesses to share its purpose using stories and bring products and services to life in a highly engaging way.
By describing how it helps fix client struggles and overcomes their pain points, the challenge becomes the driving force of the story, culminating with the solution.
With an interesting hook and clear structure, a business can show current and prospective clients what this looks like for them and what to expect from the product or service.
Leaders can also build trust with stories for clients and staff.
Such as a column in an e-newsletter with personal anecdotes and tales of family life or travel.
And Melburnians who talk about footy will connect with readers – or repel them – before touching on strategic goals.
Make your stories stick
You are more likely to engage with information in a story than facts or figures.
Examples of stories are everywhere.
Business leaders tell stories to inspire staff.
Entrepreneurs share their journey of failure and success.
Books about grit are transformed into movies that are retold in various ways for different audiences.
Podcasts. Fiction. Feature stories. Obituaries. Celebrity cookbooks.
The list goes on.
If you write stories, use storytelling techniques to make them memorable.
Build interest, trust and connect with your readers.
And when you read stories, gobble up the parts that make them interesting, such as the hook, the narrative or characters, and learn from them.
The more widely you read, the more familiar you will become with storytelling techniques and how to adapt them for your own work.