Even Non-Fiction Needs Stories

I am greatly enjoying the non-fiction book that I am currently reading.  It was mentioned in an earlier post, thanks to its intriguing first sentence, and it has lived up to the promise of that opening line.

It also led to a realization for me: stories are important in non-fiction.

Obviously, these stories aren’t made up.  (Otherwise it wouldn’t be non-fiction, right?)  True stories can be just as captivating as imaginary ones, and peppering a non-fiction text with them helps bring the reader along and illustrate important points.  In the case of this book, I’ve read about Las Vegas showgirls, a battle between an eagle and a cormorant, and some of the earliest attempts at human flight.  The stories can be personal tales of the author, like the encounter with a murre in the middle of the road.  (“That’s how I found myself walking down a country lane in pitch darkness, talking soothingly to the seabird chewing on my hand.”)  They can also be true stories of others, as in the oft-repeated tale of Frank Chapman’s birding excursion in the streets of late-1800’s New York City.  On this trek, he documented over 40 native species; the birds were not on branches, but dead and mounted on hats.

Storytelling is our main way of communicating with each other, and the use of stories in non-fiction shouldn’t be surprising.  It turns out the best science (or history or any other subject) writers are as good at turning a tale as some novelists.  Theirs just happen to be true.

Advertisements