When I read books these days, I read to learn what the author has to say but I also pay close attention to how she or he says it. I’m always very curious about how an author chooses to structure the book and the individual chapters. I hope to learn from them and improve my own writing.
Of the many nonfiction books I’ve read in the last year, it is very clear to me that the most effective books focus on story rather than strategies.
My tendency is to want to write chapters and books with a practical step-by-step strategies to achieving success. It doesn’t matter how well the strategies might work until someone is convinced to actually apply them to their lives.
I’m finally reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Each chapter is based on a simple principle for interacting with people. Many of the principles are almost common sense when you think about them. What he does extremely well, however, is tell story after story of famous people or ordinary people he has met who have found success applying these principles. The stories are memorable and give reason to actually apply the principles to your life.
Last month I read Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way. Holiday did some intensive research and includes many, many stories of historical figures and modern day successful people who have applied the principles of Stoicism to achieve success. There is very little “how-to” in the book, but there is a lot of “how-they” in the stories (as in “how they did it”). That is why the book is so memorable.
My second book, To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach, is the product of a lot of research and interviews. It won an award and made a significant impact on a lot of people. While there is a lot of how-to in the book, the feedback I hear most is about the stories that people read and remember.
While sharing and summarizing a lot of strategies could be helpful to readers, there is nothing more important than a large number of stories to provide an emotional connection that motivates them to take action.
Keep the strategies simple and supply lots of stories.