Story as a Guiding
If you’ve got the right kind of tale, you
can use it as an overarching metaphor
that guides your whole book—think
fables like Who Moved My Cheese or
business books like The Oz Principle.
This is tricky to pull off, but powerful when it works well, because this
approach unifies the whole concept of
the book into a single story.
Wondering whether you might have
a tale that can guide the reader through
your entire book? Test it out by asking:
f Will it contain all my key concepts
without stretching beyond the
f Will the story resonate emotionally
with my target readers?
fIs it simple enough to be easily
fIs it complex enough that I can
unpack meaning from it?
Back in the early ‘90s, poet Robert
Bly struck a nerve with his book, Iron
John, when he used that Grimm’s folk-tale as a metaphor for a new type of
masculinity and a model for mentoring.
You don’t have to belong to a drum
circle to recognize the power of that
story and the way the metaphor resonated with readers.
Story as a Way to
Ultimately, a good book is a conversation between the writer and the reader.
You may not hear the reader’s responses
to your side of the conversation, but if
you know your material, you have an
idea what they’re thinking. You know
their objections, their questions and
One of those concerns, naturally
enough, is “can I trust this author?” Part
of that trust will be established through
the credibility of your argument and the
way you support it, and part through
stories, especially personal ones.
Nonfiction readers are looking for
information they can use. But if you
want to create a “platform” and build
an ongoing relationship with your
readers, then share something of your-
self. Let them see your humanity, even
if you’re just using the personal story
to anchor one of your points, and they
will feel a closer connection to you.
Here’s a personal example that drives
this point home:
Imagine you’ve just flown halfway
around the world to Thailand. Jet-
lagged out of your mind, you’re
bundled into a white van and driven
out to a small village to tell tales with
Thai storytellers. It’s muggier than a
giant’s armpit; your audience—chil-
dren, grandmothers, moms and dads,
mangy dogs—sits in a dusty road on
You’re the American storyteller, so
you break out your liveliest, funniest
You’re sweating like a waterfall,
trying to make it big and impactful.
Then, you reach the funniest part of
the story … and nobody laughs. Thirty
seconds later, your translator finishes
the telling, and everybody laughs.
That was my experience in Thailand.
And that is my experience of story,
because it speaks to all ages, all genders
and all nationalities. If you want your
book to sell to publishers, scale the
bestseller lists, and linger in the hearts
and minds of readers, be sure to make
full use of the story hook.
Bruce Hale works with
individuals and organizations
to help them meet their
business goals by supercharg-
ing their communications
with StorySelling. A Fulbright Scholar in
Storytelling, he has worked in both the
corporate world and the arts, publishing
numerous articles, short stories, and over 25
books for young readers. You can find him
online at www.brucetalks.com.