This is how to construct a good story

"Of course the inevitable kill your darlings follows, but there is also such a thing as treasure your darlings"

Help, how do you construct a good story from a large, fragmented chaos?

Blog by Paul

Reading a good story is great. How wonderful is it to read a good book in one breath? The writing style, structure and storyline pull you through. So why are reports you read for work often such a torture? Boring, impossible to get through and unclear. As a writer, you have to have perfect control over the information you want to convey. I discovered this well while writing a non-fiction novel and now apply it in my work as a B2B communications consultant.

Years ago, I decided to write a book about the Jewish engineer and journalist Josef Ganz. He presented an innovative 'people's car' with the engine at the back, which he called Maikäfer (cockchafer), in front of Hitler in 1933. He was prosecuted and silenced a short time later, while Porsche was commissioned by Hitler to further develop the concept into the world-famous Volkswagen Beetle. The story was exciting enough, but where do you start to put that down powerfully?

1. Collect and filter information

The writing white papers, position papers or reports, which I now do as a B2B communications consultant, among other things, has quite a few parallels to my book project. You have a topic and a goal, but you don't yet know how you're going to get there. As then, I always start by gathering information and filtering it for usefulness and usability. The result of my research on Ganz was a filing cabinet full of photos, letters, articles and documents. But what to do with it all?

2. What do you want to tell your target audience?

Josef Ganz's life story is enormously complicated, full of intrigue, espionage and patent battles spread across different time periods and countries. There were so many entanglements and storylines that I really had to make choices. I decided to focus his design work of a 'people's car' against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazis. All other information ultimately had to support and strengthen the overall storyline. To start writing, I first set up a basic structure using the storyline as a capstone.

3. Put the structure in place and start writing

If you know what you want to tell, you can create an overall outline in chapters: what do you definitely need or want to say? This gives structure to the whole thing and gives you as a writer smaller, defined frames in which to tell your story in a dosed manner. You can already see whether there is a logical order to your story by dividing it into chapters with paragraphs, headings and sub-headings. Once the structure is in place, writing almost becomes more of a fill-in-the-blank exercise. Believe me, before you know it you are 10 pages further.

4. Write your story short and sweet

You often see reports that are so muddledly written that it almost seems like a smokescreen. Does the author sometimes deliberately use pompous language and unnecessary technical terms to cover up a lack of knowledge and insight? As a writer, you have to understand exactly what you are writing about and for whom you are writing. Only then can you really write a strong and understandable story, as Einstein said. Don't use unnecessarily complicated words, but adapt your language use to the reader (for tips, see the blog 'B1 writing in B2B: Jip and Janneke in jargon land' by my colleague Steven). It may take some time and effort, but it really pays off.

5. Let your mother-in-law read it

If you really want to know whether your target audience understands your story, you can have a first draft read by someone who has nothing to do with the subject. For example, my colleague Steven, yes that expert in B1 communication, likes to present his work to his mother-in-law. He promises her a cake if she gets the red line out AND gets all the way to the end. I submitted the first chapters of my book on Ganz to a good freelance editor. Although it is difficult to have a story you have put a lot of time and love into reviewed, it really got better thanks to her reviews. Of course, the inevitable kill your darlings, but there is also such a thing as treasure your darlings I have noticed: there are always gems that you can't put anywhere, but save them, because sometimes it is precisely those bits of text that complete the story.

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