As I’ve launched my editing business, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about story and its importance in writing. It’s honestly a shame that the concept of “story” often gets relegated to a fiction-only space. Telling a story, delivering a narrative, is just as important in creative non-fiction, academic writing, how-to, marketing, business, informational, and any other kind of technical writing you can think of, as it is in fiction.
What is “story”? The first thing that comes to mind for most people (it did for me) is exactly what dictionary.com describes in its first definition of the word–“accounts of imaginary people or events told for entertainment.” This, unsurprisingly, strictly focuses on story as fiction. I found the second definition far more helpful in unveiling what good storytelling does in writing: “an account in the evolution of something.”
It’s the word “evolution” that stands out to me.
Stories evolve. A good story starts at one, simple point and develops gradually into something more complex, bringing the reader along for the journey. This does not happen only in creative writing. Evolution is important in all forms of writing. An academic essay sets out to prove something to its reader; over the course of the piece, a thesis evolves through each successive proof, turning something simple into something more complex. Even a car’s manual tells a story–it lays out the basics of car maintenance and builds on them until the reader can understand more complex concepts.
Story is present. It is deliberate. And it needs to be cultivated. If that car manual doesn’t start by explaining simpler concepts, the reader is left confused and frustrated. If an academic paper doesn’t evolve a logical path to its conclusion, it won’t be taken seriously.
If you’re writing anything, you have a story to tell; and good storytelling is far more difficult to pull off than you might think. Creating good story–good writing–takes practice, but it’s not something impossible to learn. I encourage you to start seeing story in the world around you, so that when you need to tell a story of your own, you will know what to look for.