Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools any writer can have in their arsenal. As Barbara Corcoran said, “telling a story is the best way to make a point. Without a story, it doesn’t stick with people.”
Why? Because science.
Multiple studies have shown that the human brain stores, processes, and retrieves information in the form of narratives, which is why we can relate better when stories are told.
And while writing in narrative form is a no-brainer for novelists and short story writers, the task doesn’t always come naturally when you’re writing for businesses. Many people who are tasked to come up with whitepapers, web copy, or thought leadership pieces often get caught up with facts, figures, or how-tos, that they forget to tell engaging stories in their work.
As a result, they produce lackluster or boring pieces that fail to engage, entertain, or convert the readers.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, I’ve compiled a few techniques to help you find stories that you can incorporate in your work. Whether you’re writing an about page, a blog post, or some type of long-form content, use the following pointers to supercharge your writing:
Draw from your own experiences
When you’re looking to spice up your content with a story, always go through your own experiences and see if they can add value to the piece. For example, if you’re writing a blog post on personal finance, then perhaps you can inject a story of how you manage money in your own life.
That’s what I did when I wrote Retail Survival of the Fittest (a book that helps brick-and-mortar merchants keep up with modern consumers). To be honest, writing the introduction for the book was the most difficult part of the process.
It was a struggle because the pressure was on, and I knew I had to write a kick-ass intro to draw readers in and get them to keep turning the pages.
I spent days just writing the introduction and I produced a lot of rough drafts. I tried citing statistics, I attempted to tell jokes, I started with a quote, but nothing seemed right. Then it hit me: I’m a modern consumer myself, so why not share my own experiences?
And so I did. I decided to tell the story of that time I dropped my iPhone in the toilet and I talked about what the guys at Apple did to help me.
Here’s a brief portion of what I wrote:
So I started with that, and then I proceeded to narrate how the whole in-store experience went down. In the end, I tied the story back to the concept of modern retail and gracefully moved on to the next chapter.
The feedback I received from early readers was quite positive. I got props for the introduction and the story was even brought up in a book review.
Tell other people’s stories
Don’t have any relevant anecdotes of your own? Tap into the experiences of other people. Find someone who’s an expert in the subject matter you’re writing about and ask them to share their own tales. Or talk to your client and draw out interesting stories from them.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from Zappos.com. Check out what they wrote on their about page:
The year was 1999, and our founder Nick Swinmurn was walking around a mall in San Francisco looking for a pair of shoes. One store had the right style, but not the right color. Another store had the right color, but not the right size. Nick spent the next hour in the mall, walking from store to store, and finally went home empty-handed and frustrated.
At home, Nick tried looking for his shoes online and was again unsuccessful. Although there were a lot of “mom and pop” stores selling shoes online, what was interesting to Nick was that there was no major online retailer that specialized in shoes. So, since it was 1999 and anything seemed possible at the time, Nick decided to quit his day job and start an online shoe retailer… and Zappos.com was born!
I love that instead just talking about what Zappos is and what it does, the writer decided to tell the story of how and why the company came about. Even better, the tone they used in writing it was so engaging that as I reader, I can’t help but keep going.
Find case studies
Case studies can make business-centric content like whitepapers, press releases, or video scripts so much more compelling. Use them whenever possible.
Say you’re writing about the revolutionary product of your client. Rather than simply discussing its features or talking about the reasons why it’s so great, why not find a customer who’s actually using the product and tell them how it made their life better?
Consider what Vend did in the video below. Instead of just listing features or demonstrating their solution, they decided to feature a story—complete with characters, conflict, and a resolution—and they used that to showcase the product.
They got one of their customers to tell the story of what his business was like before switching to Vend and how his company (and life) changed for the better because of it.
Borrow stories from history, pop culture, and other sources
I credit this tip to Groove CEO Alex Turnbull. In his post on the Buffer blog, he writes that “a story in your content doesn’t necessarily mean you have to create one yourself.”
You can source narratives from history, movies, mythology, and the like to illustrate your points.
I did this a while back when I wrote this post on finding clients and facing your fears.
Rather than diving straight into the topic, I started the article by talking about a scene on the show How I Met Your Mother, and used that narrative as the foundation for the post.
Here’s what I wrote:
In episode 4×20 (entitled “Mosbius Designs), Ted, the show’s lead character, decided to start his own architecture firm. He picked a name for his firm, debated on the “official” company pen, hired an assistant, and even scheduled a company retreat.
He did everything and took care of all these mundane details, but do you know the one thing that he didn’t do? He couldn’t bring himself to call prospective clients. (At least not until the end of the episode.)
Ted was so scared of screwing it up that he put off calling clients as much as he could.
If all else fails, make something up.
As Alex points out in the post above, this doesn’t mean lying to your readers. It’s about coming up with a story and relating it to your message.
Check out what Shane Ketterman did in his post on Copyblogger. He kicked off the piece by putting the reader in a fictional narrative about mobile email marketing to illustrate its importance, and used that to lay the groundwork for his tips.
Hopefully these tips can help you produce better content through stories. Do you have other tips on storytelling? Share ’em in the comments!