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Why Nonfiction Authors Need to Tell Stories

Every celebrated author is a master storyteller. And, no matter what you are writing, you need to be telling stories. In his book The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gotschall talks a lot about why authors (including nonfiction authors) need to tell stories.

Skilled Authors Draw Readers Into their Character’s Story

The Storytelling Animal starts by declaring, a quote, “Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story.”

We have all had an experience where we forget we are in our living rooms for a moment. Instead, we are part of the story unfolding before us, experiencing the emotions that the characters in our movie or book are experiencing. 

Good storytellers trick readers into doing the imaginative work themselves and make them feel like active participants in the story.

Authors Understand Stories are an Integral Part of Humanity

The first riddle Gottschall tries to unravel in his book is, “if fiction is such a luxury, why has it always been an integral part of humanity?

Gottschall suggests several theories such as stories are a form of cognitive play or practice for real life. He gets into child’s play, and a theme emerges; the stories we tell all spell trouble for the main character. Even children’s stories are full of trouble, violence, murder, mayhem and misery. Gottschall questions why we entangle ourselves in fiction to escape yet fill fiction with anxiety.

Neuroscience Suggests A Readers Experiences Mirrors The Character’s

Authors understand that readers need to feel connected to their characters. The way to do this is through story.  Neuroscience has proven that when we watch a movie or read a book, what happens in our bodies is the same as if it was happening to us. We become the main character and feel and experience what that character experiences. Through that, we work things out, sometimes even becoming better humans. It is like our own built-in virtual reality. 

When Authors Tell stories, They are Appealing to a Human Need. 

The human mind is always telling stories, even in our dreams. Gotschall posits that most of our dreams are full of trouble and toil. They bring us wacky, sometimes unrealistic problems to solve, like escaping a vampire dinosaur who is chasing us. It doesn’t matter if we are awake or asleep; our mind is always telling stories. Some stories we tell ourselves may be true. Other stories are our attempt to organize random information or put meaning to something that seems overtly senseless. 

Storytelling Has Been Around for Decades.

Who has used the idea that stories can mould us more than religion? Throughout history, story has held groups of people together, ensuring a sense of collectivism and supporting one another. Story has also divided groups and pitted people against one another. In the end, it isn’t the one who tells the story that always gets to be the ‘good guy.’

Every Story is Just A Version of the Author’s Truth

The stories we tell ourselves are not real. They are not accurate – including the stories we tell about ourselves. Memoirists must understand that their story is their own version of the truth. As authors, we want to tell the truth as we remember it, yet we must be willing to admit that we are not infallible, and even our ‘truth’ has falsehoods buried within. 

The Future of Story

The book ends with the future of story. As we shift how we communicate, from oral traditions to written traditions to now visual/oral traditions, story remains constant. Critics may say the story is dead or dying-it isn’t. It may shift forms, but the essence of story is deep in the bones of every human and will continue to live in our hearts. If you want to write a nonfiction book, become a skilled storyteller. The Storytelling Animal will help you get started thinking about how to incorporate story into your nonfiction writing. Grab your copy here. 
If you need some help on getting your nonfiction book started, grab Seth Godin’s book The Practice here:

– Keep writing

Melody Ann

Author Nation is your go-to resource for becoming a successful nonfiction author, from planning to promotion and everything in between. Download the resource for the stage you are in.


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