How to Use the Power of Storytelling When You Write

Here, you’ll find five tips on how to tell stories when you write articles, newsletters, reports and other types of writing. Learn how to tap into the creative power of storytelling…

“People don’t want more information,” writes Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling. “They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith — faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.”

I’m on a storytelling quest because up until now my writing career has been filled with information. I wrote tips-based blog posts, research-driven topics, and factual interviews for magazine articles…but now it’s time to dig deeper. Go within. I’m learning how to use storytelling to be a more creative writer; in this post, I share what I’ve discovered so far.

Telling stories doesn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t grow up eating dinner around the table with a family who talked about their day (I grew up with a mentally ill mom who rarely cooked). My mother never told stories, my grandmother never told stories, and I didn’t have a dad or grandfather or other family member to tell me stories. So storytelling has never been part of my life – even though I am a writer.

So far in my resarch on how to use storytelling in creative writing, I’ve only found arguments in favor of telling stories. I’m sold. I agree. I know people don’t want more information.

The problem is that I haven’t found much information on how to mine my life for stories that matter. Not all stories are interesting; not all stories have the power to resonate universally; not all stories will affect readers. Not all stories are worth telling…or are they?

Storytelling questions to ask when you write:

  • How do you know if and when you should tell a personal story in your writing?
  • What information do you include – and how much is too much?
  • Where do you find stories to tell? I can barely recall what happened yesterday…how do I dig up those stories that are deep in my heart, mind, and soul?
  • How do you know readers will be interested in your story?

Luckily, there are no right or wrong answers to those questions! Every storyteller – and creative writer – has to ask those questions before he or she starts telling stories.

Your stories are the only truly unique things you have to offer the world.

In this post, you’ll find 5 tips for telling stories:

  1. Know why stories are so compelling in nonfiction writing
  2. Learn what a story is
  3. Notice what makes stories relevant and meaningful to you
  4. Be aware of what stops you from personal storytelling
  5. Detach from what happens after you tell your story

And here’s one of my dirty little secrets: one reason I rarely use storytelling in my writing is because I get so bored listening to stories. I love reading fictional stories in books, but I find it boring to read memoirs or autobiographies. I never sit and listen to stories on the radio (Stuart Mclean’s Vinyl Cafe on CBC, for example) or fictional books on tape, and I rarely make it through a whole movie.

Storytelling isn’t my strength, to say the least. But I want to learn how to be a better storytelling so I can write more creatively…and pehaps even make peace with myself and past.

How to Use the Power of Storytelling When You Write

Below I share my own thoughts on telling stories in different types of creative writing. I also weave in a few threads of information and inspiration from Annette Simmon’s The Story Factor.

1. Know why stories are so compelling in nonfiction writing

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling.

Stories make information easier to remember. Stories help readers make sense of the world. Stories also illustrate difficult moral and ethical principles that are otherwise too big or painful to comprehend. Meaningful stories allow readers to reach the conclusion you want them to reach – and stories encourage readers to decide something important or valuable for themselves.

Why are Jesus’ parables are among the most popular and influential stories in the world? Because he knew that storytelling has the power to redirect people’s lives. Storytelling isn’t just about making creative writing more interesting; it’s about influencing readers in powerful ways.

2. Learn what a story is

“Basically, a story is a narrative account of an even or events – true or fictional,” writes Simmons in her “What is Story?” chapter of The Story Factor. “The difference between giving an example and telling a story is the additional of emotional content and added sensory details in the telling.”

A story:

  • Weaves detail, character, and events into a whole
  • Can come from your own experience, imagination, literary source, or oral tradition
  • Describes something that we all recognize as True
  • Simplifies our world into something we feel we can understand
  • Often reveals something about the storyteller – and makes her more authentic

Good stories always have a grain of truth. Good storytellers know what specific details will resonate with readers. Good creative writers tell stories that make readers remember their own experiences, which allow them to tune into you in a meaningful way.

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” – Ursula K. Le Guin.

3. Notice what makes stories relevant and meaningful to you

You don’t need to attend a creative writing workshop to learn how to use storytelling in your written work. To some extent you can teach yourself how and why telling stories is so effective in nonfiction writing.

For example, when you think of story, what comes to your mind? When I think of “short story” I always remember ‘The Painted Door,’ by Sinclair Ross and ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson. One way I can improve my creative writing skills is to ask myself what made those stories so memorable. Characterization? Plot? Theme? Details? Maybe it’s the surprise element; both stories have a shocking twist that I didn’t expect.

You’re more likely to effectively use storytelling in your own creative writing if you become aware of what you liked about the stories you remember.

4. Be aware of what stops you from personal storytelling

This tip on how to use storytelling to make your creative writing better may be bigger for me than you, because I’m not a natural storyteller. What obstacles prevent you from telling stories that are authentic, true, and personal?

How to Use the Power of Storytelling

How to Use the Power of Storytelling When You Write

Shame. Embarrassment. Ego. I’ve been working through this for a long time, so I know why I found it so difficult in the past to write stories about myself. I cared what people thought, and I didn’t believe my life was all interesting. I grew up with a schizophrenic mother and was hyper sensitive to anything that might be labeled crazy.

That was then. Now, it’s a different story. In many ways I’ve died to myself and I am a new person! Sound weird? Not if you’re a Christian. Okay, maybe even then the whole “die to self” thing is a bit weird.

The botton line is that I am a much different writer now than I was when I wrote my first blog post in 2008 on Quips and Tips for Successful Writers (which is now Blossom). My first post was 10 Ways to Support a Family Member Who Wants to Write, and I wrote it eight years ago. See how fact-oriented and tips-based it is? That’s why I want to learn how to use storytelling in my writing – not just to be more creative, but to offer more of myself to the world.

5. Detach from what happens after you tell your story

I love the idea of healthy detachment! In all aspects of life – relationships, writing, work, art – it’s crucial to learn how to detach from the outcome of your efforts. It’s none of your business what readers think of how you use storytelling in your creative writing. It’s none of your business how people will respond, what they say think feel judge criticize or even how much they do or do not share like thumbs up your blog posts.

Strive for freedom. Know who you are and what you offer, and give what you can. But don’t allow your self-esteem, self-worth, or self-respect hinge on how readers receive your work.

Quick summary – 5 tips for using storytelling in creative writing:

  1. Know why stories are so compelling in nonfiction writing
  2. Learn what a story is
  3. Notice what makes stories relevant and meaningful to you
  4. Be aware of what stops you from personal storytelling
  5. Detach from what happens after you tell your story

I aim to tell more stories when I write. Not parables, analogies, metaphors, or word pictures. Actual stories from my life that reveal who I was, who I am becoming, what I’m learning, and how I want to leave this world.

It’s later than you think. Think about the legacy you’ll leave in the stories you tell. Remember that your writing will live longer than you, and may have more impact that you imagine.

Fellow scribes, how do you tell your stories?

Are you a natural born storyteller, or are you learning how to tell stories to make your creative writing more interesting and influential? Take time to really think about who you are and what kind of stories you want to tell about your life.

“You will find that your best stories will be about things that happened to you,” writes Annette Simmons. “You don’t have to amputate part of your soul to be influential. In fact, you soul tells the most moving story of all. Go tell your story, the world needs it.”

how to tell stories creative writingRead The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling to learn more about using storytelling in your work. Simmons doesn’t just describe how to tell stories in creative writing; she actually focuses more on storytelling in business.

Her new book Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact is even better! Simmons teaches readers how to narrate personal experiences and borrowed stories in a way that demonstrates authenticity, builds emotional connections, inspires perseverance, and stimulates the imagination.

Stories are the best tool for communication. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a creative writer or a plumber or Jesus. We need more stories. Will you tell yours? I’m telling mine.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Phillip Pullman.


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