Why Nonfiction Writers Must be Storytellers Too by Pamela Mytroen

Why bother telling a story in a nonfiction piece? After all, your readers just came by for information; they’ll find what they need and be satisfied, won’t they?

3 reasons why you need to tell a story in a non-fiction piece:

  1. You’re in competition with thousands of other writers. When a reader looks for truth, or information about diverse topics such as space, food, or exercise, he has millions of pieces from which to choose. Will he choose yours and stick with it?
  2. Your reader will stay with you to the end if you entertain and/or captivate them.
  3. They will remember your message if it’s attached to a story.

Think of all those sermons that had stories in them. You sat up and listened, and you probably still remember some of the sermon when you think of the related illustration.

3 Examples of storytelling in a short piece:

“A Cage Cracked Open” – I told the true account of Antonina Zabinski’s life, (The Zookeeper’s Wife) in which the cages of several animals were burst open due to a shooting party in her zoo. What happened in particular to the two hawks and an eagle forms the basis for my InScribe blog piece on May 7, 2020.

Priscilla Shirer tells the story of the last house standing after a hurricane devastated the community of Gilchrist, Texas, in 2008. She does some research to determine why this was the only home that withstood the fury of the winds and rain. Curious? She ties that into her message.

The Daily Bread on April 7, 2020, opens with this anecdote: “Teenage gang leader Casey and his followers broke into homes and cars, robbed convenience stores, and fought other gangs. Eventually, Casey was arrested and sentenced. In prison, he became a “shot caller,” someone who handed out homemade knives during riots.”

I have a feeling you will look up one or two of the above pieces, won’t you, because the stories have wet your appetite for the message.

10+ places to find stories:

Nonfiction books: I keep nonfiction books on my desk that I’ve highlighted or bookmarked because the stories have stayed with me, especially biographies and historical accounts. I’ve used anecdotes from “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing for more than one nonfiction piece.

News, Weather, and Sports: Scan the headlines and gather little stories to get your point across.

Journals: Do you journal? Have a look back and reap some of the stories as openers.

Fiction: Sometimes characters or storylines make excellent opening anecdotes for your nonfiction. Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia come to mind as books that have been quoted numerous times.

Real-life interviews: I’ve used many stories from the lives of real people that I’ve interviewed for a newspaper or FellowScript.

Movies: Ever hear a good quote in a movie and then wished you could remember it later? Keep pen and paper handy while watching.

Music: Ever heard a sermon drawn from a line or two of an old rock song? Lyrics are short and to the point and work well for short nonfiction pieces.

Poetry: Be honest. Where have you learned classic poetry? Probably from reading a snippet of it in a nonfiction piece. Poetry is golden.

Greeting Cards: Again, the sayings are pithy and concise and can serve a punch.

Over the fence: Keep an eye out for everyday happenings in your neighbourhood. They are too good to pass up! Even pausing for one minute and looking out the window can give you a snippet for a story. Try it!

Art: I have learned about history, culture, and artists, by going through my local art gallery. I always come back inspired.

The next blog post will detail more specifics on how to weave a story into a nonfiction piece.

If Pam Mytroen could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.

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