Story writing is not a cut-and-dried thing. While a story teller can use voice, hands, facial expressions, and more to bring a tale to life, the story writer uses words alone to create the same experience and draw in the reader. Is the challenge is worth the effort?
I say yes, it is! But what if your writing experience is based in technical writing? By it’s very nature, technical writing is focused on information. It’s all about communicating facts. Use that focus in story telling and an epic tale can be told in far fewer pages! The facts are there, but the heart of the story and its people are missing.
How does the technical writer bridge the gap between “just the facts” and sharing the heart and soul of a story? Is it even possible? What do you think?
Story Telling: Through Technical Eyes
I’m all about story writing and story telling. Everybody has a story to tell–you can’t convince me otherwise. What prompted me to write this post was a meeting I had with a dear friend this week. She asked for help in writing a family history so she could share it with her loved ones this Christmas.
Sally, (not her real name), sat down and began to write out the meaningful events and memories from her 70 years of life experience. The other day she emailed me a copy of her work thus far. My excitement built to see how she was doing. After all, her family history is quite interesting.
The words came into view as her file opened on my screen, and I started to read. Brief paragraphs swept me through years of information about her parents and siblings. I read all six single-spaced pages, realizing finally that I was reading the bulk of 70 years from her life. But instead of feeling like I knew her better, I was left with so many questions unanswered.
What was the problem? It’s one that editors encounter pretty frequently. At least that’s been my experience. Sally had an illustrious career doing technical writing for the U.S. military while in Germany. She was also deeply involved in caring for dementia and Alzheimer patients as she owned and successfully ran multiple care facilities.
Her writing style during that time is considered technical writing. It was factual, concise, direct, truthful, and informative. But it was not story telling. There is a huge difference.
What Is Technical Writing?
It is helpful going forward to define terms here. What exactly is technical writing? Let’s begin with a list of elements that are all part of this writing style.
- Its focus is on presenting information.
- The information must be accurate and truthful.
- The reader is not always required to act or respond.
- Content is adapted to the needs of a specific audience.
- Using a passive voice is acceptable.
- This writing tends to be “dry.”
- Accurate editing and proofing are necessary.
Here’s some more helpful information about the characteristics of technical writing to give you a better sense of what it is. You can see from this list above, however, that this writing style does not lend itself well to stories.
Story Writing in Comparison
Whether your story writing is fiction or based on a true event, there are still basic elements required to make it a reading success. Stories need to have details, word pictures painted of places, people, and locations. The proper use of details make all the difference.
Unlike the technical writer, information transfer is not the goal of the story writer. The story is the most important thing. To make a story come to life, these are some of the things you need to work with in your writing:
- Well-defined plot
- In-depth character development that brings them to life
- Details and human touch to locations, settings, characters, scenes, etc.
- Conflict that grips the reader and holds him wrapped up as the story unfolds
- Good editing and proofreading to assist in the easy flow of the read
- Timelines clearly defined as needed
- Writing is interesting and holds the readers attention
I recently wrote a post about the elements of fiction. Read it here to gain insight and see how story writing works with the reader.
Story Writing–The 5-Point Bridge
Just so you understand, one writing style is not better or worse than another. The point is that story writing requires a certain style to turn the story into a great read. Technical writing, though excellent for other projects, is not the best choice for writing your story.
Does that mean that technical writers can’t write stories? No, that’s not what I mean at all! A technical writer can learn to adapt to the challenge of story writing. It’s easier than you might think.
My friend, Sally, is a great case in point. We met yesterday and discussed her writing project. As we sat under an oak tree in the park and looked out over the lake, I put on my writing coach and editor hats and went to work.
The following 5 points are the gist of what came out of that session in the park. It helped Sally because she’s already sent me a greatly enriched revision of part of her story. I believe it will help you as well.
Writing Bridge Point #1: Back away from the mental aspect
Story writing definitely involves facts as they pertain to the story. But a good story is one that goes far beyond the bare bones account of what happened.
In writing about Mark Twain, for example, you could write: He lived; he wrote; he died. You have to admit it’s factual, true, and accurate. But it’s just not a story! Where a technical writer will work from a mental level alone, a story writer goes underneath this to find the things that make the story come alive.
People are not flat, one- or two-dimensional beings. We are far more than that. Thoughts, emotions, ideas, decisions, actions–we are complex and don’t always make logical sense! It is this human touch that makes us unique, lovable, irascible–all those things that make us so interesting!
The first step in moving from technical writing into story writing is to let go of your mental viewpoint and choose to go another route.
Writing Bridge Point #2: Bring heart to the forefront
With the mental aspect of you moved to the background, it’s time to bring your heart to the front. Heart is that part of us that supplies imagination and all our human qualities. It is the source of our beliefs, feelings, and moods. From our human-ness come forth our actions, our victories and defeats, our problems and our conquering of them or defeat by them. It is the heart that produces the stories we must tell!
To a writer who is well-practiced in writing about facts and figures and the sharing of information, the idea of writing from the heart presents quite a challenge. After all, it’s a big no-no to add any narrative writing to a technical piece. Stepping away from the “rules” at first feels strange, maybe even wrong somehow.
But for story writing it is a requirement for success. The whole idea of telling a story in the first place is to relate to others what someone experienced. It doesn’t matter if the story is couched in fiction or if it tells the true tale. The purpose is to share it with others in such a way that they, too, can have that experience. It’s quite a different goal from technical writing.
Writing Bridge Point #3: Hook into the heart and soul of the reader
Story writing, in reality, is all about your reader. You write to be read. What good is a story if no one reads it? Therefore, the reader must be utmost in your mind before you ever start writing your story.
Have you ever read a book that swept you up in its story almost immediately? Think about that. What book is it? Do you have favorite books that you read more than one time? There are books in my life that are like old friends. I read them over and over throughout the years. What’s that about? They are great stories that grabbed us and pulled us into their world. Resistance was futile!
In order to hook your reader strongly like that, your story must be strongly and powerfully told. That comes from taking the time and spending the words to recreate the human soul into the story. Paint each character, setting, location, scene, every action sequence of your story with vivid detail. Make each element of your story come alive with heart and soul that your reader can relate to easily.
This kind of story writing draws on your reader to empathize with your characters or with the situation or conflict in your tale. When your reader can relate to what you’re saying, they become part of your story. They become more than just a mere bystander. The story becomes real to them.
How do you hook your reader like that? Take the time to bring heart and soul to your story writing. This is not always fast work. It can take some time to develop this style of writing because it is a stretch from where you’ve been with technical writing. But it comes and it is so worth it!
Writing Bridge Point #4: Allow yourself to become vulnerable
This is part of stepping out of the mental and into the heart as you write. It is so valuable to develop the ability to be open to your reader. Show them your beliefs, your feelings good and bad. Part of being vulnerable as a writer is being real. If your character is having a bad day or feeling pain of some kind, express that by first putting yourself in that place. What would you feel or think or do in that same situation?
Vulnerability in the story writer produces more depth in every aspect of the story being written. Characters are more real and lifelike. Locations become real to the reader. Your story rises above the mere words to create its own place in the heart and mind of anyone who stops by to read it.
When you as a story writer take the time to relate to your characters, the plot, and all the other elements that make up that story, and write from that vantage point, you are in line for great things to happen from your story. Your readers will hook up with you. They will enjoy your stories and come back for more!
Writing Bridge Point #5: Develop patience for the process
My final point in this look at story writing has to do with patience. Oh yes, the p-word that so many folks don’t care much for these days! Yes, we are a high tech world and we get everything almost instantly or want to know the reason why not.
Still, story writing is not a flash-in-the-pan undertaking. No matter how you slice it, it takes organization, much thought, and a good bit of quality writing time to create a great story.
It is quite helpful to ask a trusted friend to read what you’ve written so far and give you an honest opinion. Ask questions of this person to see that your writing is on track to hooking your reader and holding that interest all the way through.
Finish the first draft! Don’t pick it apart and never finish it. Once the first draft is completed, then the editing phase can begin. Revision follows, then more editing back and forth until the story pops the way you want it. Then it moves into the final stage of proofing.
Patience stays the course through this whole process. Be gentle with yourself as you learn the new skills of story writing. It will come. If you don’t quite, you will discover that you can switch back and forth between the different styles of writing. You will have mastered yet another kind of writing skill.
I am happy to say that the revisions Sally sent to me a while ago are definitely headed in the right direction. She is bringing out her family history stories with a human touch and with much care for detail. The work already draws the reader with its simple style, its humanity intact, with a splash of humor tossed in for good measure.
Those of you who think you can’t write a story, come on! Jump in and get going! You can do this, too! I encourage you to check back through my blog posts and learn some of the other tools and useful information there to help you write more, write better, write now!
Thank you & God Bless