Story–The Common Ground Between Fiction and Nonfiction

Cynthia Ruchti

Story–The Common Ground Between Fiction and Nonfiction

By Cynthia Ruchti

Story old and newIn a January 16, 2011 post for Psychology Today, Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge expounded on “The Psychological Power of Storytelling.” She focused on the concept as it relates to changes technology brings to the reading corner.

“Our brains,” Rutledge said, “still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience. No matter what the technology, the meaning starts in the brain… The success…rests on the resonance, authenticity, and richness created by the storyteller.”

Sweet words for those of us who create or champion stories.

Story isn’t solely fiction’s domain.

Nonfiction thrives on storytelling. It’s a communicator’s sharpest tool, most soothing salve, and super-charged persuader.

“Stories,” Rutledge says, “are authentic human experiences. (They) leap frog the technology and bring us to the core of experience.”

Story breathes life into nonfiction.

Story of historyI don’t think I’m alone in this. Facts of history blurred on the textbook pages in high school. But when I heard behind-the-scenes stories of how dates, battles, famines, hostile takeovers, and sacrifices affected the lives of the people involved, history drew me in. I engaged when I heard their stories.

One of the first things agents look for in nonfiction proposals that cross their desks is skillful use of storytelling techniques.

(Story problems in math are another animal entirely, one we won’t feed or entertain here.)

Story sells.

Storytelling sells cars, insurance, potato chips, milk, and genealogical search programs in television ads. Story sells ideas and concepts in books, whether fiction or nonfiction. Memoirists who focus on scenes rather than dates and incidences create compelling reading, because…

The brain responds to story.

Story comes to life

“Stories are how we think…how we’re wired,” says Rutledge.

Story illustrates. It explains. Story compels. It completes. Story engages multiple functions of the human brain. And, when done well, the human heart.

What’s your take? Do you skip the storytelling in nonfiction to get to the facts? Or does the storytelling give meaning to the facts and stats?

Rutledge has her theories why story is such a powerful communicator. What are yours?
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