Alex and I recently had a lively chat about the difference between academic writing and the kind of creative story telling that a gifted professional writer excels at. As Alex pointed out, an academic writer usually has a thesis—a central argument—that he or she is seeking to advance.The key goal of this kind of writing is to stake a claim to some unexplored territory or to refute long-accepted positions.This kind of writing often depends on the accumulation of facts, rather than their careful selection.
A wonderful storyteller, on the other hand, may also take a position or have a central thesis, but laying it out is not the primary goal.The primary goal is to create a graceful, compelling narrative in which factual information and core messages are woven so artfully and seamlessly into the story line that readers absorb them almost without being aware of their presence.
We began talking about Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful new book, as an example of inspired storytelling. The book presents large chunks of information about military subjects, the war in the Pacific, and POW camps.
Yet all the details Laura provides are presented in such a fresh and fascinating way—and so much unfamiliar territory is illuminated—that the story just races along. It’s a page turner—quite an accomplishment for a non-fiction book.
Alex and I both marveled at the way Laura was able to bring to life events in the Pacific during World War II—and how much we learned that we hadn’t known before. By giving history a human face, Unbroken makes a forgotten story unforgettable. Now that’s writing dangerously!