Ghostwriting: What is a Compelling Story?

stories matter typed on paper from a typewriter

Just because you want to use ghostwriting services doesn’t mean the ghostwriter will want to partner with you. Like many creative types, ghostwriters want to work with people who have stories to tell that excite, motivate and inspire them. Ghostwriters like helping people tell their stories that move people to action and that which they find compelling.

So, what is a compelling story? It’s a story that has a powerful and irresistible effect; or earns admiration, attention or respect. That’s a pretty general definition, but that’s OK because all sorts of stories — memoirs, biographies, comedies, tragedies, dramas, suspense thrillers, real-life and fiction — can be compelling.

As a journalist, I often sought people who had compelling stories to tell. The first quality I looked for was how unique, original and different it was. For example, I once wrote about a college softball player who had to overcome a traumatic childhood in which, when she was 5 years old, her cocaine-addicted mother dragged her to dens of iniquity to get her next fix — or prostitute herself to get the money to buy her next fix. Who wouldn’t want to read about how this player went from that to All America?

Many times, a story doesn’t sound compelling until some unique element is introduced. For example, a person likes reading. OK, that’s not unusual. Now add into the mix the fact that the person survives a nuclear explosion, has all the time in the world to read anything he wants but breaks his glasses and can’t see. That becomes much more interesting (and is actually an episode from “The Twilight Zone”).

Here’s an illustration from the movie “Blazing Saddles.” When trying to join Hedley Lemarr’s gang, Sheriff Bart (in disguise) says, “stampeding cattle” as a qualification. Lemarr says, “That’s not much of a crime.”

“Through the Vatican?”

“Kinky! Sign here.”

Another element of a compelling story is how it relates to the reader. Do other people go through similar stories? If they were to read this person’s story, would they see themselves in it? I once helped with a woman tell her story about being married to a sociopath who committed securities fraud. While most people don’t marry criminals, too many women inadvertently and unknowingly marry sociopaths. These other women can relate to my client’s story, even if the details differ from their own.

A third quality of a compelling story: It puts the reader there. That means there are lots of specifics — events, emotions, actions — that are fully described, so much so that a reader can imagine being there and experiencing exactly what is written. Long, detailed stories benefit from this greatly, but the story doesn’t have to be long. One of my favorite short stories is “The Lady, or the Tiger?” Author Frank Stockton doesn’t use a lot of words to put us in the arena facing two doors, seeing the princess indicate her lover should open the right door, and then asking us which came out, the lady or the tiger?

Each of the examples I’ve given have an emotional component, and emotion is another quality that compelling stories share. How can a person not feel emotion as they read how the softball player grew up, how the bookworm can’t have what he wants, how funny it would be to drive cattle through the Vatican, how the woman dealt with the sociopath, and how difficult a choice the princess makes in telling her lover which door to open.

A compelling story will be read. Similarly, stories that are unique, relatable, vivid and emotional are the kind of stories ghostwriters want to work on. So, if you have a compelling story but need help telling it, there will be no shortage of ghostwriters (like me) who will want to help you get it out of your head and onto the page.

Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan

Imagine cradling your book in your arms. See yourself thumbing through the pages, reading the words, recognizing that what’s contained therein is your story, laid out for all to see. This symbol of your life is part catharsis and part healing. Your journey is complete, and you’ve reached the people who needed to hear your story.

You have a story that just has to be told. If you don’t get it out of your head, you will regret it. You know that if people just could tap into the wisdom that's inside you, their lives would change for the better.

You’ve probably been feeling like you need to sit down and get it on paper. But you haven’t made it a priority. Maybe it’s because you hate writing or you don’t consider yourself a writer. Perhaps the thought of you dedicating hours a day to organizing and writing your story is too overwhelming when piled on top of life’s demands.

Or maybe you’re beset with terror: "What if my story isn’t interesting or compelling enough to reach a wide audience? Am I good enough to tell it? Can I make it irresistible, a must-read?"

You're not alone. The vast majority of people who have experienced what life has to offer have a story to tell that’s worthwhile, unique and compelling, but they never get to do it for a wider audience.

Why is it so hard? Why are you like the 97% of people who start their book don’t finish it? There is a world of difference between having the story in your head and being able to get it down on paper.

What most people don’t realize is that having the story and writing the story require two different skill sets.

The more worthwhile and compelling your story is, the more critical it is to have a professional writer give it the treatment it deserves so it will touch lives in the way you envision. That’s why it’s so important to partner with a specialist who’s an expert in the art of storytelling. Your story is too important to leave to an amateur.

Let's start a new project together.

Contact me so we can explore how a ghostwriter or editor can benefit you.