As a strategist and writer, I live in a world of words. I use words to create frameworks and narratives that help people see themselves and their world anew – with great purpose and possibility. And while words are the tools of my trade in helping clients think through and articulate their strategies, culture, and brand, they amount to very little without a story.

What I learned from the Story Doctor

Enter Francis Flaherty, former Story Doctor for the New York Times. In his book, The Elements of Story, he teaches us writers of non-fiction that when we’re overly entrenched in relaying facts, we’re missing an opportunity to truly hook our audience. He helps us see that, no matter how emotionally barren the subject matter, it is still possible to connect emotionally with the one who is reading or listening. But for non-fiction storytelling to resonate, it must move beyond the boundaries of pure intellect — it must cultivate feeling. In other words, great storytelling begins with empathy.

Thank you, Frank.

Truthful writing is everywhere

Truthful (aka non-fiction) storytelling is not limited to the honorable work of journalists. It’s also for strategists and proposal writers. It’s for bloggers and speech writers. It’s for email notes, text messages, and tweets. Because, whether we’re limited to 140 characters or 1400 words, every message has the potential to be a story. Because every message is intended for an audience.

The role of empathy in truthful writing

If we truly care about our audience, we will write with their needs in mind, whether they long for direction, insight, learning, inspiration, or change. We will ask ourselves what we want them to see, feel, think, change, or do. And we will struggle through the arid field of facts until we find the romance, rhythm, poetry, or humor that brings those facts to life in a way that sticks — and allows our audience to pause, reflect, wonder, and shift their point of view.

Because then — and only then — does our truthful writing have true value.