If you’re struggling to know how to use storytelling in your non-fiction book, you’re not alone. After all, you’re writing something to share information, not to entertain your reader with intricate plots or twists in the tale.
Or are you?
When giving your readers new knowledge, it’s tempting to give them as much of your expertise as possible – I mean, that’s why you wrote the book, right? To share information that’s going to help them go through the transformation they seek. And yes, for a large part of the book, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
But my argument is this: just because you’re imparting knowledge, doesn’t mean you have to make it dull and boring. Actually, the more you can incorporate storytelling in your non-fiction book, the better that non-fiction book will be.
The power of storytelling in non-fiction
Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. According to National Geographic, some of the earliest evidence of stories comes from the cave drawings in Lascaux and Chavaux, France, dating as far back as 30,000 years ago.
And the reason storytelling has lasted is that people love hearing a good tale – be it for entertainment, information or educational purposes. If you think about a night out with friends, we share stories almost all the time we’re with one another. You have a captivated audience, oohing and aahing in all the right places.
People respond to stories because of the way they’re structured too – the three-act structure of beginning, middle and end is so deeply ingrained in our very being that we naturally tell stories this way – with a good hero and villain thrown in to boot.
Storytelling in non-fiction works because it can make a dry topic seem more palatable to the reader – no one likes reading a snooze-fest that’s simply full of facts and information.
Not only that, your readers can see how the point you’re trying to make relates to them in an entertaining way. And if they’re entertained, they’re more likely to continue reading.
The types of storytelling to use in non-fiction
You can feel as though there’s a ‘right’ kind of story to use with your non-fiction book. In fact, if it helps to educate your readers on the topic you’re talking about, it really doesn’t matter. But using stories where your reader can identify with the protagonist (fancy word for ‘hero’) really does help.
They don’t always have to be stories from your own personal experience either, but if you’ve got a powerful story of your own to tell, don’t be afraid to use it. In fact, using your story in the introduction to explain why you’re writing this book is a must. However, only use other stories from your life if they’re relevant – avoid sharing them just for the sake of it, otherwise, your book risks turning into a memoir. To avoid this, mix it up with other types of stories:
Famous stories can illustrate and educate too. In my books, I tend to use a mixture of famous ones and those closer to home.
If you’ve worked with a number of clients, there’s nothing to say you can’t use their stories. Often, this cements your expertise but also helps pull your potential clients towards working with you.
A word of caution here though – if you’re using a true story you either need to get express permission from the client or change the name/some facts about them so they’re not easily identifiable. You can always combine a few clients into one fictional client too – if there are different aspects of client stories that would work well, amalgamate them into one.
Golden rules for how to use storytelling in non-fiction
Now you know the benefits of using storytelling, you now need to understand the best way to use it within your writing. When planning your book, it’s worth thinking about stories that might work well with a particular chapter and jot them down in the planning stages.
Think of stories like a seasoning – you want to sprinkle them through your book, not saturate your writing with a hundred different ones. One good story per chapter tends to work well.
Use your story to hook the reader at the start of a chapter. You can tease them with the start of the story which relates to where they are at this moment too – you can then finish the story off at the end of the chapter to round things up and show them a solution is possible. Either that or tell the whole story at the start to illustrate the whole journey.
Try to use stories that are entertaining and fun to read, but you can also go for the shock and awe factor too. We’re naturally curious so anything that peeks that curiosity is the way forward. You either want something that illustrates your point by providing some humour, something that shocks your audience into sitting up and taking notice or something that intrigues them.
Don’t make them too long – imagine you’re sharing the story with a friend. Write it out as though you’re telling it verbally and then chop out any of the fluffy bits. Why not dictate it and then edit the transcription?
Use stories that have a clear link to the rest of the chapter – you don’t want anything too tenuous. You can use great linking sentences to go from the story to the rest of the chapter to explicitly explain the link.
Storytelling in non-fiction is a skill, but it’s definitely one worth practising. You don’t have to be an expert novelist to make it work either. Just tell stories that mean something to you – the more meaningful or memorable they are, the easier they’ll be to write.
Why not read some other non-fiction books to see how the author has used storytelling and ask yourself why it works. How does it make you feel as a reader? Are you entertained, motivated or inspired?
Here are some great examples of authors who do it well – why not give a couple of these books a try?
The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
The 5-Second Rule – Mel Robbins
You are a Badass – Jen Sincero
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Dare to Write – Steph Caswell (well, it would be rude not to, right?!)
If you need support with how to include stories in your non-fiction book, or with any aspect of your book’s structure, contact me and we’ll see how I could help.