Using One Attack

The business fable had its genesis as part of a logical progression. So many books in this genre are forms of exhortation written in a personal vernacular that connects directly to its reader. “You can do it!” is not a far cry from an entire chapter in which a fictionalized business leader shows their work force how to do it. In addition, the fable frees a business writer to expand into fiction, albeit in a circumscribed way.

In a more formal narrative a writer can also employ another favorite of the genre: a numbered or bulleted list. Many business people like to work in this format, since it is an extension of a daily or weekly to-do list. Indeed, I have edited manuscripts in which it’s hard to tell what should dominate: narrative or the lists. They are useful especially at the end of a chapter, because they can summarize points that are considered important.

What does not work so well is a melding of the business fable with the list format. They are two extremes of narrative style, and switching back and forth between them is jarring to the reader. It is easy to understand why. Narrative nonfiction flows smoothly, with personalities and dialogue, and the reader is engaged by the lifelike interactions. The entries in a list, on the contrary, are designed to be brief and succinct, hammering home point after point. At the end of a dramatic chapter in a fable, a list can seem like a stern teacher—these are the takeaways!

Sometimes a writer will try to avoid the contrast by spinning out the entire fable first and then tacking on an extended list for the second part of the book. This approach makes the matter worse. Readers grow used to the effortless and fun rhythm of a fictionalized story, and they may put down the book after reading only a few of the imperatives the list demands. Oh, brother, here are the takeaways.

What works better is melding the two completely. Why does a topic of discussion need a number? A writer can compose the list as a separate entity to start. Then each point will become clear. Then the written material can be inserted into the fable. It has to be refashioned somewhat to fit the looser style, but that way you are buttressing what you know works.

Exercise: Once you have drawn up the list, go back to the fable portion of the manuscript. As you read, look for places where a topic from the list would logically fit. Drop those in as you go. When you are finished, you merely need to go back and make the list text into asides that the lead “character” in the fable tells directly to the reader.

“Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”  —Frederic Bastiat

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.