Storytelling for Non-Fiction

Storytelling for fiction is pretty obvious. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s some kind of narrative, and a plot line involving a cast of characters. Storytelling has been around for a long time. It predates writing, and has been used in mythology, fables, fairy tales, sagas, etc. In more contemporary forms, it shows up in novels, mysteries and the like.

But many people don’t associate storytelling with non-fiction. And in fact, that would be accurate for such works as reference books. However, storytelling does happen in such non-fiction works as autobiographies, personal stories or adventures, the telling of history, how-to and self-help books, etc.


So, if you’re writing non-fiction, are you presenting a collection of facts or are you telling a story?

Storytelling is basically sharing and possibly interpreting a subject — using words, images and/or other audiovisual media. The human brain seems to be especially good at listening to, understanding, remembering and telling stories. It’s often true that people remember facts shared in a narrative form better than as just isolated data. For example, “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November, etc.” To quote Brené Brown,”Stories are just data with a soul.”

In storytelling, the storyteller is often sharing personal knowledge and experience that, ideally, connects the teller to the reader in some way. It also connects the reader to the content. The goal of a fictional narrative is often to tell a story that grabs the attention or emotions of the reader. While the goal of a non-fiction work may be similar (e.g., a gripping biography or a piece of interesting history), it’s more likely to be about presenting a problem and proposing a solution. However, that doesn’t prevent authors of non-fiction from being storytellers.

Storytelling can be an effective tool for teaching and learning. When you, as an author, develop an engaging story, you can stimulate your readers to create a vision, a set of goals, or ideas for change, for example.

Storytelling Guidelines for Non-Fiction

Following are some guidelines to follow that can make the telling or sharing more effective.

  • Your story should have a single theme, that’s clearly defined and developed
  • Engage your readers—Get them involved. If your work is about some kind of self-improvement, make them feel as though you’re writing about and for them.
  • Try to create vivid word pictures to stimulate your audience’s senses and imaginations—Include relevant pictures, diagrams, tables, and examples
  • Keep your story brief, simple and straightforward—Be specific. Avoid lots of generalities. Your audience wants to know that this work is about them and what they specifically can or should do.
  • Write appropriately for your audience
  • Avoid jargon that’s not absolutely necessary
  • Use relevant case studies or statistics, as appropriate, to make a point
  • Involve your audience, if you can — insert questions, short quizzes, fill-in forms, etc.
  • Be enthusiastic—If you’re not excited, why should your audience be? Use an active voice, rather than passive sentences (e.g., An active voice should be used). Use action words. Keep your reader moving forward, wanting more.
  • Change the “voice” occasionally—Vary the narrative by possibly bringing in some personal stories or anecdotes, or having guest contributors add comments
  • Avoid “cookie cutter” writing—Change the pattern or flow once in a while; add some quotes or humor

Know Your Audience and Keep Them in Mind

Your audience plays a huge part in telling your story. They’re the people you target to buy your book. To do so, they need to think that they’re going to get something out of it. And if you promise to deliver something, you’d better fulfill that promise.

In today’s world, though, you face a challenge. Before mass media, storytelling was a special experience. However, with mass-market electronic distribution, we’re constantly being fed stories — news stories, mysteries, situation comedies, etc. What’s happened is that the general population has lost some of the skills required to absorb stories — mostly imagination, the ability to picture a narrative in their mind’s eye, rather than have it right there in front of them. On top of that, thanks to electronic phones and the internet, the average attention span has shrunk dramatically. More and more, stories are being told visually, rather than in words. What that means is that you have to work harder and smarter to tell your story.


Regardless of what you’re writing about, it’s definitely worth your while to step back and ask yourself if you’re just writing down a bunch of facts, or are you, hopefully, telling a story to a particular audience. Remember that a good story should flow smoothly from beginning to end, be interesting to your readers, and provide them with some benefit.

Copyright © 2015 by Affordable Editing Services

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