Who Moved My Cheese? Our Iceberg Is Melting. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The classic fable format has been growing as a business-book genre since Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson first popularized the technique more than twenty years ago in their best-selling One-Minute Manager.
But turning your business knowledge into an instructive yet entertaining tale worthy of readers’ time and money takes practice, skill, and effort. Here are three useful tips to get you started.
1. Show, Don’t Tell
While nonfiction business and self-help books regularly tell the reader what to do and how to do it, business fables don’t have that luxury. The goal is to communicate wisdom through real-time action, character dialogue, sensory description, and plot development. So instead of telling the reader that Joe Smith hired Jane Doe for the job, describe how Joe extended his hand to Jane, gave a hearty handshake, and said, “Welcome to the team.” By using physical details and the nuances of how events unfold as symbols to convey meaning, you will be able to avoid directly telling the reader your business wisdom (a somewhat uninspiring prospect when one is hoping for a good read) and instead be able to show the reader through the way in which the story progresses and develops. This can be a far more engaging and entertaining mode of communication.
2. Be Mindful of Time
Many of the successful fables describe a tale that occurs over a relatively short period of time. To help you stay focused and to keep plot development tighter, look for a storyline that plays out over a year, a few months, or even a day. You can carry this principle right down to the level of the chapter as well. Although there will be times when you may want to zip the reader quickly through an event to get to another event or place and time, use such techniques consciously, saving them for well-placed transitions. This will help to ensure that you share the play-by-play advancing action that is happening in a given scene and avoid simply telling the reader what happened (helping with #1 as well).
3. Less Is More
In nonfiction business (or self-help) writing, more tends to be better. After all, you don’t want to simply introduce a concept and then leave the reader hanging. But in fables—as in film—less really is more. Most readers are intelligent and perceptive. Give them a hint, a symbol, a metaphor, or a short burst of powerful dialogue and they will catch your meaning and think you are clever in the process. Wax too philosophical or dwell too long on a particular symbol and the reader may feel like you are beating him or her over the head with the obvious.
Crafting a business fable that both engages and instructs is a delicate process. The trick is to take the reader through the journey of a very good story that “just happens” to convey wisdom in the process.