The Power of Storytelling

With great power comes great responsibility.

This is more than just a quote from Spider-man. It is a very real sentiment that reminds me that actions have reactions and as a certain type of writer, I have a responsibility to tell stories truthfully.

I occupy a strange space and live a sort of double life, like the masked crime-fighter mentioned above. I am both a fiction writer and a nonfiction writer. Nonfiction by day. Fiction by night. Peter Parker by day, if you will. Superhero by night.

At work, I am a human storyteller. I tell the stories of people who are helped/impacted by the nonprofit organization for which I work. But, writing the real-life story of a living human being is nothing like telling the stories of the characters who I’ve invented in my head. There are repercussions and a very real need to tell the stories of real people  accurately, truthfully and respectfully. And sometimes that’s challenging because real-world stories don’t tie up neatly in the end (or rarely do) or there are so many layers, it’s tough to decide what to include and what to exclude because of space and a reader’s attention span.

I came across an article recently on the Nonprofit Technology Conference website titled “How to tell compelling stories while avoiding exploitation.” This headline resonated with me given the role I play at my day job and inspired this post.

It’s kind of funny to contrast my position at my day job with the role I play as a fiction writer and all of the tactics I employ such as utilizing the unreliable narrator. As a fiction writer, I (more or less) exploit my characters. If your characters aren’t suffering, you’re not doing your job as a writer, or so the old adage goes. Right?

But in real-world writing there’s a CTA, or call to action. There’s a reason the organization is sharing a story. They don’t do it just for kicks. Are you looking for donors? Showcasing a new program? Sharing a story of success? Stewarding donors? There’s always a reason and a purpose behind communications, but you do it in a way that honors the person who agreed to share their story with you and the world.

This being the case, perhaps I’m the perfect person to do this job because I know how to look at both sides of the story-telling lens and employ ethical tactics from my experience as a fiction writer to bring about new story ideas and perspectives for the real-world people I represent and my organization serves.

Being a writer in the “real world” (and by that I mean the business world) means that we occupy an interesting place. We understand the power of words in a way that most people do not. We wield the ability of storytellers in a way that most people can’t. And we do it all while being mindful of the power we wield and doing so in an ethical and forthright manner. That makes us a little like Spider-man, don’t you think?