Deepen your connection to readers through narrative
As more and more drab AI content fills the internet, writers will need to find more innovative ways to attract readers.
Even for functional content, using stories to engage the reader could be the answer. Nowadays, you can’t scroll for more than 30 seconds without seeing a post saying ‘Learn storytelling NOW’. Well, I’m not a great fan of the term storytelling. Allow me to tell you why.
Stories vs ‘storytelling’
Stories are built into human history. Ever since Year Dot, we have shared stories together, aurally, pictographically, and through writing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that our entire perception of reality is based on narrative structure.
Think about it: we talk about our football team’s terrible performance as if it is a fact. But, it’s thousands of stories simplified into an expression of annoyance at the 3–0 loss.
Sometimes our conversations run out of steam because we start recounting events that happened to us without any idea of what it means. Stories take time to process and craft. But when we hear them, we experience great emotion, understanding, and empathy.
“After shelter, nourishment and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman
Stories were not designed for marketing. But in the last ten years, this new word has reared its ugly head — storytelling.
I’d like to stress that cobbling together a quick ‘human-interest angle’ for the purposes of selling your product or service is not a story.
All stories use require conflict, character, and resolution.
Storytelling often goes something like this: ‘Hi reader. This is Henry. Henry has a problem just like you have. This magical problem solved Henry’s problem. Be happy like Henry. Buy the product.’
Does this have conflict, character, and resolution? Kind of, but the key here is that John doesn’t change. That’s what great stories require — a moment of epiphany that changes the character forever (and doesn’t just direct them towards a 30% discount on a new lawn mower.)
Bear this in mind when you add stories to your writing.
Three Ways to Use Stories in Your Writing
If you have a well-worn topic and you want to give a personal take on it, you can begin with a story. I recently wrote an article about how to hook the reader and used an old fishing tale as bait.
Using a catchy title is one thing, but elaborating a traumatic event, or sharing a problem with readers will get them to engage in a deeper way. Remember, AI can write skimmable listicles and how-tos. But it can’t draw readers in with personality.
Remember, that if you start with an anecdote or story, you have to close the loop. What happened at the end of the day? This is known as ‘bookending’ an article.
Sharing a satisfying end to a story informs the reader why you shared the story. What connection does it have to the content of your piece? And don’t forget to drop a few mentions along the way too. Otherwise, the story from the introduction will be a distant memory by the time the reader reaches the conclusion.
Another way to slip a story into a blog or article is by going on a deliberate tangent. In a YouTube breakdown of some of his best posts, LinkedIn funnyman, Dave Harland, explains that tangents keep the reader present.
Including a weird or funny offshoot to the main focus of your writing makes the reader pay closer attention to the content that follows. It’s like a little reset button or brief musical interlude.
Ensure that your tangent is random or weird, not just an example of the main topic. For instance, in Harland’s post about email subject lines, he uses a brief tangent about a horse named Jeff who nearly qualified for the 1836 showjumping world championships.
This serves several purposes: it keeps the reader guessing, it adds a light touch of humour, and it returns the reader ready to focus on the main message of the post.
The final method for stories is to focus on the character. You can use yourself as an example for each point you make to show the reader the effect of the advice you’re writing.
Alternatively, invent an avatar whose properties and personality can act as the constant to the content changing around them. Remember Henry (the guy who needed a cheap lawnmower)? Show the reader more of his life, his struggles, and his wins and losses. Most importantly, use the character to show an arc or change. How does the overall message of your article link to their life?
Using human-focused stories as examples helps the reader to recognise themselves and say ‘That’s me’.
However you choose to engage your readers, remember that we are human and it is stories that connect us.
Do you have an example of an article where you included a story? Feel free to share it in the comments.
Philip Charter is a writing coach from the UK who works with multilingual content writers. He is also the author of two collections of short fiction and Fifteen Brief Moments in Time, a novella-in-flash.
If you found this useful, please read his other articles and feel free to connect on LinkedIn