Readers love an entertaining story, but stories can serve an even greater purpose. Storytelling is a powerful tool for helping readers think critically, learn information, and feel connected to the experience of others. Writers of every genre can use storytelling skills to strengthen their message and writing.
If you’re not accustomed to using stories in your writing or want to strengthen your storytelling skills, the following tips will help you write stories that stick.
An engaging story is winsome, interesting, and seeks some commonality with the reader. This doesn’t mean that your story has to be lighthearted, but it does need to engage the reader in a compelling way. Something interesting needs to happen to capture their attention. Let your humanity shine through, and be sure to tell your story as truthfully as possible. Even if your story is fictional, it has to resonate with reality and connect with the human aspect of storytelling too.
Who doesn’t love a funny story? It’s why we like comedians, late-night television hosts, or a friend who tells an over-the-top story. Your book or essay may be a humorous piece, or you might be sharing something difficult. Either way, elements of humor can offer the reader a lighter moment to take a breath. Memoirists often do this well, including elements of humor amidst challenging life situations. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, try reading humorous pieces and analyzing how the writer incorporates funny elements.
The more specific you are with your imagery, the more memorable the story will be. Research shows that the sensory parts of the brain light up when reading stories with sensory details — readers’ brains “experience” the story with the writer. An interesting turn of phrase or unique metaphor can stick with readers for the long term. Think back to the articles or books that have impacted you as a reader. Is there a specific image that stands out? A metaphor? A concrete detail? Experiment with those elements in your writing to keep readers coming back for more.
Don’t be afraid to share an experience unique to you. For example, if you lived abroad for years, served in the military, or had an unusual childhood, your story will still resonate with readers. A reader doesn’t need to have the same experience as the writer to understand it on a universal level. Tap into the universal elements of your story while sharing the particulars specific to you. Readers will find your uncommon story memorable but also connect to the common elements of joy, grief, humor, and frustration.
Honor your reader by allowing them to reach their own conclusions when reading your story. Make connections for them, not conclusions. The function of a story is to entertain or gently lead your reader toward empathy and growth, not to preach or tell them how to think about your topic. When sharing a particular message through storytelling, subtlety is the best way forward. The goal is to help readers ask questions rather than give them defined answers. You can trust your audience!
If you're looking for more help with storytelling, return to your reading habits. What do you like to read, and why? What about those writers and their storytelling compels you to keep reading? Try incorporating the above tips and the skills you see in your favorite writers’ stories into your own.
Are you a writer who wants to tell stories in book form someday? To help you make progress in your writing journey, we've put together a simple guide that will lead you through 10 questions to ask yourself before you write a book. Click here to check out this free resource.