Since you’ve decided to write a nonfiction book, why would you need to learn about narrative writing? Isn’t that something that only fiction writers need to master?
The truth is that fiction sells like no other genre because of one key reason: it’s able to connect with readers at a very deep level – a connection so deep bypasses our critical thinking.
Fiction has the uncanny ability to bring us over the chasm of disbelief and let us become fully immersed in the life of a character, whether the events it describes are purely fictional or based on true events.
Why would perfectly rational people voluntarily suspend their disbelief to such an extent? Because they can’t resist the alluring power of story telling.
Let’s bring the focus back to your book. If you’re writing, or thinking about writing, a nonfiction book, chances are that you’re doing so in order to be of service to others. Perhaps you’ve developed a solution to a problem that a lot of people experience every day, either in their personal lives or in their businesses.
You want those people to feel better, to experience relief from their pain, to be freed from the shackles of their affliction. The problem, though, is that pain affects us at a much deeper level than what our intellect is used to handling, and in order for your solution to truly work for people you have to be able to meet them in that deeper place.
That’s precisely where narrative writing can become an invaluable asset for nonfiction writers. The use of narrative writing will allow you to teach by telling stories, achieving a level of connection with your audience that’s simply not possible by only addressing your writing to their intellect.
With a logically crafted book you’ll struggle to reach deep enough to affect change in your reader. At best, your book will become a reference book to be consulted sporadically instead being the change agent it can be.
How Do You Write a Good Narrative for Nonfiction Books?
Let’s recap. The goal of a good nonfiction book is to positively impact someone’s life by solving a problem they’re experiencing. Problems “live” at a deeper level than our intellect can successfully manage. In order to dispense your solution, you’ll need to connect with your readers at this deeper level. Teaching your solution by using the power of story telling will allow you to achieve the level of connection that’s necessary to be successful in your quest.
Does this mean that your entire book needs to be written as one long story?
No. You want to achieve a balance between the intellect of your readers and their emotional core. Many parts of your book will be expository in nature. This is the writing technique that you’ll be using to reveal the facts, data and research findings that are necessary to build your credibility as an expert.
In some parts of your book, you’ll be using persuasive writing in order to influence and ultimately convince your reader to adopt your solution and take action. But when it comes to conveying how your solution will relieve the problem they’re experiencing in their lives, you’ll use the power of story telling to connect with them with either a personal narrative, with stories from clients, with stories from a fictional character created as a composite of many clients, or with all of the above.
In this article, I won’t be taking a deep dive into narrative writing. Instead, I’ll explain the basics so that you know how to properly structure your stories. The only way you can get good at it is to practice, by writing and rewriting stories and getting feedback from advance readers.
What Are the Elements of Narrative Writing?
There are five key elements required to write a good narrative. Here are the steps you need to follow:
1- Create the setting for your character or characters
The first thing you need to do is to create the setting for your story. You want to create a world for your character that’s very familiar to your audience. As a nonfiction writer, it’s imperative that you know the audience you’re trying to serve very well (most of them will resemble your clients).
Your goal is to portray this world as vividly as possible, using descriptive writing techniques to engage your audience’s five senses and using great attention to detail.
2- Bring in your character or characters
Next comes your character or characters. Now, if you’re new at writing fictionalized stories of true events (you’ll want to change names, places and events in order to protect your clients’ identities), it’s better to focus on a single character per story. Multiple characters going on multiple journeys will add too much complexity to the story for you to handle at this early stage.
Your goal in this step is to create a character that resembles the people in your audience as much as possible, somebody they can easily identify with and relate to. You want your characters to be believable to them and, above all, you want them to think: that’s just like me!
3- Introduce the Conflict
This is where you introduce the problem that your audience is experiencing, the struggle they need to overcome. The problem or conflict is what drives the narrative of your story and the story will come to a natural conclusion when your character solves their problem.
The more pain the problem causes, the more poignant the story becomes to the reader. For example, it’s perfectly okay if things go desperately and repeatedly wrong for the character, provided there’s always a resolution in the end.
4- Reach the Climax of the Story
The next step in narrative writing is your story’s climax. This is the most heightened point in the “fight between good and evil,” with your character playing the part of “good” and their seemingly intractable problem playing the part of “evil.”
The climax is the point where the good finally conquers the evil, but not without an escalation in the action. Evil doesn’t want to be defeated easily – an easy defeat makes for a boring story! A good story, on the other hand, keeps your readers glued to the page without ever revealing who’s going to triumph until the end.
5- Achieve Resolution
Once you reach the story’s climax you can’t just stop there. Although your character has overcome their problem with finality using your solution, you can’t end the story yet because there’s too much “fog of war” left over from the big battle of good versus evil. You’ll need to leave your reader with a more satisfying ending.
In the same way that you had to build up the story’s action to its climax, now you need to dial down the tension back to normal. This is the final stage of narrative writing, where you add context to the story post-problem, perhaps describing the new life of your character after getting rid of their affliction.
Great! You’ve now learned the basics of narrative writing so that you can add the power of story telling to your book. I’ve also created a companion article that might be of interest to you. It’s entitled How to Use All 4 Writing Styles to Create an Exciting Nonfiction Book. A good nonfiction book must have the proper balance of Narrative Writing, Descriptive Writing, Persuasive Writing and Expository Writing. In this article you’ll learn how those four styles can be used to enhance the appeal of your book.
I wish you the best on your writing journey,
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.