Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do You Have a Story?

From the beginning of time, storytellers have enthralled audiences with tales of adventure, romance, courage, and triumph. People love stories. We’re curious about each other. Your friends want to know how you found Mr. Right. Your business associates want to learn your secret to success.  Your family wants to help you over your heartache and heartbreak and celebrate the good times.

Everyone has a story. Have you struggled to find work and finally landed the job of your dreams? That’s a story. Were you stuck in bad relationships for years before you learned how to attract the right person? That’s a story. Did you always want to write a book but lacked confidence until you found someone who inspired you to take action? That’s a story.

The power of stories lies in their ability to teach and inspire. Heroes inspire others with their courage. Think of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr. They believed in the power of dreams and helped make our world a better place. Or William Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and Lewis Carroll. Their writing has shaped the minds of students for years and inspired many to become authors.

Stories share themes that people can relate to. You’re not the only one who searches for a dream career. You’re not the only one who desperately wants the love of your life. And you’re certainly not the only one who wants to make a million dollars. If your story addresses one or all of these themes then you have something in common with other people. Those reading your story feel a connection to you and to your experiences, giving your story universal appeal.

With universal appeal your story can reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. But how do you put that in your book, especially if you’re writing nonfiction?

Spice It Up

Nonfiction books can sometimes seem dry or technical with page after page of detail. Although readers want the information you share, there is a way to make that information interesting: do it with personal stories.

Suzy had a great idea for a book to help people with relationship problems. She’d been in and out of bad relationships for over 10 years and finally found the man of her dreams. But she didn’t know how to start writing. Every time she tried to write she froze. She’d start a sentence then erase it. Start again and write a couple lines and decide to change direction. After 15 minutes of this she wanted to tear up the paper. This happened for several days. She was in tears when we met and ready to give up hope.

I suggested she take several deep breaths to calm down, then I asked her to tell me how she met her current husband. Her eyes brightened, her slumped shoulders straightened, and her entire body radiated purpose. She was relaxed, passionate, and on a mission. When she finished her story, I told her, “Start with what you know. Start with the story of how you met your husband.”

The last two paragraphs are a personal story.  They’re not about details or technicalities. They don’t tell you about sentence structure or character development. They demonstrate a personal struggle and how a shift in thought helped one author achieve a victory. Suzy was inspired when she left her coaching session and she was able to go home and write.

You want your stories to inspire people, to show them a way out of their struggle, to let them know someone has been successful and they can be too. The next time you write, include a personal story. What happened to you? What struggle did you overcome? What personal stories can you share?


Nanette Littlestone is a freelance editor, writing coach, and author who has worked with both fiction and nonfiction for 20 years. She specializes in helping authors to use their passion to achieve their own unique voice and message. For more information, please visit



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