When to use a story
- To illustrate – When raw content is difficult to understand.
- To entertain – When content has been dry or technical for too long. Good to wake people up but if the story is too long or the technique overused, it can remove your audience from your topic. That is why stories with this purpose are usually told at the start or end of a section.
- To make it personal – This can increase the sense intimacy or identification with the author, but watch out. A poorly told or unsympathetic story can ostracise you from your audience.
- To motivate – When you want to show potential outcomes.
- To demonstrate connections – After making several related points, a story can serve to show how they work together. For example, Alec had taught his class…
- To make it practical – Stories can show how a theory works in real life.
When NOT to use a story
One oft taught rule of writing is to “murder your darlings” (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch). Even if the story you want to include is a cracker, there are several reasons why it may be best to let it die in obscurity. It will be mourned only by you.
When considering a story, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it relevant? Does it achieve its purpose? If it is to illustrate a point, does it promote clarity or confusion?
- Does it command too much attention? Will people remember the story or the point that the story is meant to reinforce?
- Does it detract from the point? Sometimes a point is made with enough impact on its own. Adding a story can weaken it by making it appear as though it cannot stand without supporting evidence.