As a marketer, you know how to write a narrative that tells a story. But do you know how to write one that shows a story? When you write a narrative that shows, you describe the benefits of your product less, and instead, let the benefits speak for themselves through the story. And that’s what takes a narrative from informative to compelling. Here’s how to do it.
1. Choose your thread
Identify someone who has a compelling story to share. Often, this will be a patient or customer who had a relevant experience or successful outcome with your product. This person’s story will serve as the thread of your narrative. He or she is your hero. Your protagonist. Your example.
Next, identify other sources, such as experts or thought leaders who can expand on ideas presented in the article and offer advice, tips, commentary, etc. We suggest identifying two to three experts so you get various perspectives (and in case any of the interviews turn out to be duds). Finally, consider other sources who might lend a unique perspective, including family or friends of a patient or even a client’s customer or end-user (with permission from your client, of course).
Now it’s time to research the topic you’re writing about by pulling together important stats and links to references. Don’t forget to research your subject matter experts as well!
2. Prepare for your interviews
Some interviews are as easy as asking the person to explain their experience. Other interviews are more challenging — and you’ll need to draw information out of your source. Keep in mind, customers and patients are probably not used to being interviewed in this way, and some may even be nervous. In any event, it’s always best practice to prepare interview questions ahead of time to guide your discussion. As you plan your questions, be sure to think about how you plan to tie the subject’s story into the rest of your narrative.
It’s helpful to use open-ended questions that begin with phrases like:
- What happened when …?
- How did XYZ happen …?
- Tell me about …
And don’t forget to include reminders to yourself to confirm name spellings, important dates and a general timeline of the subject’s experience.
The expert interviews can be more challenging in a few ways. While these folks probably are more accustomed to speaking on their area of expertise, they may have a “spiel” prepared that might not align with what you need for your story. In such cases, you’ll need to press them, and that’s not always easy, especially when speaking to a doctor or executive.
It is also helpful to make the best use of these sources’ time. To do that, it is important that you only ask questions that you can’t find the answers to elsewhere. Your experts should not be needed to provide, for example, statistics. They should be used to provide context around statistics or to explain key pieces of how something works or why it matters.
3. As you write
Outlines are particularly helpful when writing narratives since it’s easy to get lost in the story. Nothing fancy or formal is necessary 一 just a few notes about what you’ll touch on in your intro and then a list of sections or themes you want to include. Then, drop your research, relevant stats and source quotes where appropriate. And be sure to note how the thread relates to each section.
Now it’s time to write, to connect all the pieces and tell the story. There’s no set word count for a narrative — this will depend on how complex a story you’re telling and how many sources you include. Some narratives can be told in 400 words; others need 3,000. In our experience, though, 800 to 1,200 words tends to be a sweet spot for most patient and customer success narratives.
4. Nail the ending
Compelling narratives begin and end with the subject, or thread. This is important. The biggest mistake you can make when writing a narrative is forgetting to come back to your subject’s story. Be sure not to leave readers wondering what happened or how things turned out. This isn’t a true crime podcast, so use the ending to provide an update and tie the whole piece together. This will provide readers with a sense of closure and satisfaction.
5. Edit out unnecessary info and jargon
When you’re done writing (yay!), give yourself a day, an afternoon, an hour (however much time you have), to let the piece sit before you edit. That will allow you to come back to it with fresh eyes.
When you do dive in for editing, remember the reason you chose to write this piece as a narrative is because you wanted to tell a story. Is what you’ve written relatable? Is it interesting? Does it flow? Cut anything that doesn’t specifically advance the story, even (or rather, especially!) if it’s about your product. And get rid of any jargon, product specs, marketing speak, etc.
As difficult as it may be to resist, this is not the time and place to show off your product. Your narrative should be about spotlighting your customer’s experience. If you’ve done that, your product will shine through and speak for itself.
Compelling narrative checklist
What does it take to write a compelling narrative? Be sure to do these things:
- Identify the subject, or “thread,” and experts/thought leaders.
- Carefully prep interview questions.
- Identify statistics and research that support/reinforce your objective.
- Use your thread and experts to show, rather than tell.
- Bring the story full circle — tie everything together in the end.
- Use expert quotes to illustrate/illuminate.
- Edit to remove jargon and unnecessary info.