1 — Nobody cares about facts.
An article without a story is not worth reading. Nothing affects us more than the emotional urge of a life story. So if your article misses one, find it now.
I’ve been thinking about the reasons that make me continue a piece of writing long enough. And in all honesty, as a writer, nothing drains my energies more than finding those reasons.
I want to understand what keeps me stuck to an article or a book because I want to replicate it in my writing. And stories have always had a crucial role in that stickiness. Even better if they are personal, life-changing, controversial, or curiosity-driven.
So I’ve introduced stories about my job, friends, and life in my articles. Some of them worked as expected, and some others failed. But I never analyzed the reasons. I’ve always thought there were more and less interesting stories. Until I realized the most meaningless story — if written well enough — can thrill readers and make them discover a deeper meaning.
Also, it is always easier to find a purpose in a simple story because it is more likely to connect with an ordinary life. So here are 4 helpful tips for using life stories in your articles and connecting with your audience.
The two goals of using life stories in your articles.
If you want to use life stories in your articles, congrats! You are halfway ahead of everyone else that is not. But using life stories incorrectly and not using them has the same results — you either disappoint your audience or annoy the people involved.
As a writer, attracting readers and making them feel emotions is one of my goals. So I use stories that resonate with a wide range of people. But, at the same time, I have to expose them with clarity to not confuse them.
I’m writing my story so that others might see fragments of themselves.— Lena Waithe.
Also, as a secondary goal, I want to respect the privacy of the people involved in the story. If I am talking about a friend that loves self-improvement, it could be anyone. But if I talk about John, born in Italy in 1992, who works as a hairdresser, it will take at most 10 minutes for my audience to know who I am talking about.
(There is no John, born in Italy in 1992, who works as a hairdresser in my circle of friendships. His name is Mario, born in 1981, and he is a plumber).
I want to protect the people that share their stories with me and help me generate new ideas for my articles. This is my way of thanking and showing them my respect. So this is my second goal when using life stories in my articles.
To respect these goals, I listed 4 helpful tips for using life stories correctly. So here they are.
1 — Nobody cares about facts.
Storytelling is an art we learn from kindergarten and keep improving throughout our entire life. When we get back from school and narrate our day to our parents, we use storytelling to keep them interested. Or, when we go out with friends and share the latest news, we focus on the particulars and remove silly insights.
We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.— Jimmy Neil Smith.
Cutting unnecessary parts and keeping people interested are the two principles of storytelling. And when I incorporate a story in an article, I want to make sure that all the useless parts are cut out. So I follow a simple checklist of tweaks and tunes.
Checklist of tweaks and tunes.
- Are there any needless facts? If a part of the narrative doesn’t evolve the story or give any emotion, cut it from the articles.
- Are there any redundant descriptions? When describing settings, I only focus on the characteristics that will impact my story. If I am in a dark and smelly bar, that description should function as a premonition for what is about to happen. If it is redundant, it is a cut.
- Is the crucial point highlighted enough? Storytelling works better if the narration focuses on one concept at a time. So I make sure not to overcharge readers with multiple topics that confuse them or give my story unexpected meanings.
2 — Make sure the story resonates.
Making a life story resonate is one of the biggest challenges of a writer. Therefore, each time I add one to an article, I test it with real-life people first.
Friends gatherings have become my stories playground lately. And every time I meet someone, I involve them in my narrative and want them to root for me. So instead of narrating sterile facts, I always fill stories with emotions and unexpected events. Then, if they work, I transpose them into my articles.
When searching for a connection with readers, I care about two points.
First, I want them to feel an emotion, whether it aligns with mine or is the complete opposite. I search for a strong drive that makes the audience react to my article by interacting with me or getting passionate about the topic.
Second, I want the emotions to support my thesis. Sometimes, I have a great story, but it does not relate to my idea. Perhaps because of the two emotions diverging or the tone switching between contexts. Or, even worse, because I removed parts from the story and the audience missed my message. So always check the correlation between your life story and your point of view.
Even here, you can use a checklist.
Checklist for resonating emotions.
- Which emotions could the reader feel? Take notes on the reactions of your friends or relatives when you tell them a story, and try to understand if you could use those emotions in one of your articles.
- Do I want all of those emotions? Especially when writing about controversial topics, it is always better to take a position. But exposing your opinion will make some readers align with your point of view, and others challenge it. So always check each emotion that your article could generate. For example, I once wrote about finding a mentorand said mentorship should be free. I knew some coaches and mentors would have hated me for that, and they did, but I didn’t care. If I did, I would have removed that part from the article.
- Do the emotions relate to my point of view? Make sure the correlation between the story and the point of view is clear. A confused reader is a lost reader. So make sure the article is the natural evolution of the story.
3 — Limit personal data.
The second goal of using life stories in your articles is to protect the anonymity of other people involved in the story.
Sometimes, I limit personal life stories to myself to keep other people as anonymous as possible. But other times, I have to introduce friends and relatives in my articles, and there is no other way around it.
Writing the story in the first person is a technique that saved me many times. This way, there isn’t any risk of somebody understanding which friend or relative I am talking about because I only expose myself. But the process could lower the power of the story, so it does not always work.
A personal data checkup is always a great idea whether you decide to shift into the first person or tell the story of a friend. So make sure to remove names, ages, accounts, addresses, or too specific connections with yourself from the story.
For example, once I wrote an article about the evolution that my ex-girlfriend triggered when she left me. But I did not specify her name, surname, or any of her accounts. Also, I removed from the story any information about the period in which we dated, so it would have been harder to guess who she was.
As a practice, ask for permission before writing a story about someone. If you use the right tone and assure people you won’t reveal their identity, they will be honored to give it to you.
(I will be honest, I didn’t ask my ex-girlfriend for permission. But I was vengeful, don’t be like me.)
4 — Ask for more.
Once, I wrote a story about a friend of mine, and it became one of my most viewed articles at the time. So until then, I have always paid close attention to anything my friends were telling me because I could have used it to prove my points.
My attention made me forge a pool of stories I could use in my articles, but it also made me become a better friend. Usually, people love talking about themselves. And the more you listen, the more they share. So listen to the people around you, sometimes you can find an exciting story even on the bus taking you to work.
There is a limit to the experiences you can live in a lifetime, and you have to choose them carefully. And for those you haven’t experienced, you can always ask somebody else.
Whether you write for a blog, a book, or anything in between, life stories will always have an impact on your audience, so you better use them. But the task is more challenging than you imagine. So here are 4 helpful tips for using life stories to boost your articles.
First, write a story. Nobody cares about facts, so cut the useless stuff, and write about what matters.
Second, write a story that resonates. You want to test your storytelling abilities with other people before putting them into your articles. And you want your narrative to trigger an emotion you already anticipated.
Third, write a story that protects the anonymity of its characters. You don’t want your friends or relatives to stop believing in you. But they will if you expose them.
And fourth, ask for more stories — there is no limit to the number you can collect for your articles. Therefore, find a lesson for each of them, and you will never run out of things to say.
These were my 4 helpful tips for using life stories in your articles.
Do you want to receive the complete printable checklist for using personal stories in your article?
Subscribe to The Challenge to receive your FREE dose of printable infographics each month, so you can better track your progress right now!
Click the button below! It’s free.
If you want to support me in other ways, you can subscribe to Medium through my referral link, or follow my Substack newsletter.