4 reasons why reading fiction can help you write better business books

Reading great fiction teaches you how to add emotionally powerful narratives to business books.

  • Skilled writers can use a fiction writing style to make their business books more entertaining.
  • Writing business books as narrative nonfiction engages with the reader’s five senses.
  • Accelerate the narrative pace, like thriller fiction. Business books do not need to be slow and dry.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Humans seem hardwired to consume and enjoy stories. Fictional stories shape the way we think, affect how we act and influence our choices.

One study revealed that “good storytelling” increased cooperation within a Filipino hunter-gatherer population. And Alexander the Great slept with a copy of Homer’s Iliad next to him every night, a fictional story he used as a blueprint for his conquests. That story drove his choices and changed history.

The average adult spends about 6% of his or her time every day engrossed in fictional stories. Evolutionary theorists have attempted to understand why humans are so eager to consume fiction. But a nonfiction writer doesn’t need to know “why,” only “that.”

By leveraging this human proclivity for powerful stories, nonfiction writers can vastly improve the quality of the books they’re writing.

Narrative nonfiction and emotionally powerful prose

Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction, is a style of nonfiction writing that uses an approach similar to fiction writing. For example, the nonfiction book might follow the story arc very precisely and have a clearly defined beginning, middle, climax, and end.

The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain. There are many advanced skills writers can use to up the entertainment value of their business books. These skills include emotionally powerful prose, changes in rhythm, smooth shifts in pacing, and vivid descriptions.

The way to learn all these advanced methods is to read a lot of fiction.

I’m a big fan of narrative nonfiction. Whenever someone wants a book written, I try and persuade him or her to use this method of writing if possible. My purpose when working with writers is to ensure the book they are writing will be read from beginning to end. Making the book entertaining is key.

Leverage the five senses

Description using the five senses is an excellent way to suck your reader into your story. The more engrossed your reader is, the deeper the emotional impact of your narrative.

This applies to business books, memoirs, general nonfiction, self-help, and many other nonfiction subgenres.

Too much description, however, can make a book boring. The way to learn what is “too much” or “too little” is to read a lot of popular fiction. The best fiction books use the senses of taste, smell, and touch to bring the readers into the story and so involve them emotionally.

Brand perception has a lot to do with emotional responses, so this is a vital skill to learn when writing nonfiction.

Pick up the pace and capture the interest

Whether you’re telling an anecdote or writing about your life’s story, modifying the pacing of the story goes a long way towards evoking powerful emotions in people.

Thrillers are particularly good at this, especially near the end of the story. Two writers who do this expertly are Harlan Coben and Lee Child.

By shortening sentences and paragraphs, you immediately accelerate the narrative pace. The same is achieved by shifting quickly from scene to scene.

If you were writing a sales book, you could make readers inch forward in their seats and grip their books (or e-readers) a little tighter by writing a fast-paced anecdote of a million-dollar deal. You could jump back and forth between the manager, the salesperson and maybe even the spouse waiting outside their child’s school, eagerly awaiting a call to know if the deal went through – or if they just lost the house!

Not only will the chapter be exciting, but it will also be memorable.

Anything can be turned into a story if you know how

Once, I worked with an author who had very little to write about other than a short system.

So, we hacked away and worked out how to fill the book with narratives and emotional beats from beginning to end. What began as a lukewarm book quickly became a riveting read.

It does take a bit of smart thinking to figure out how to add emotionally powerful narratives to a book. Reading a lot of good fiction teaches you how to do it and pays off when your business book flies off the shelves.

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How to make a hanging indent in Google Docs, for works cited pages and other forms

student working on laptop with textbooks
You can make hanging indents in any Google Doc.

  • You can make a hanging indent in Google Docs using the ruler tool, which lets you change the margin size.
  • Hanging indents are great for works cited pages, block quotes, lists, and more.
  • You’ll need to be using a computer to get hanging indents in Google Docs – it’s not available in the mobile app.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Hanging indents are rare, but useful. Unlike an ordinary indent – where only the first line of a paragraph is pushed a bit to the right – a hanging indent leaves the first line all the way to the left, and instead pushes all the lines under it to the right.

You usually find them in bibliographies and MLA format “works cited” pages, and sometimes for creating lists within documents.

It’s easy to do hanging indents in Google Docs. Here’s how.

How to make a hanging indent in Google Docs

1. If it’s not already visible at the top of your Google Docs document, turn on the ruler by clicking “View” and then clicking “Show ruler.”

Google Docs Show Ruler
In order to create a hanging indent, your ruler must be visible.

2. Highlight the text that you want to indent. This can be a single paragraph, multiple paragraphs, or the entire document.

3. On the ruler, find the left indent control (which looks like a blue triangle pointed down) and the left margin control (which is a small blue rectangle). They’re usually stacked together above the left margin.

4. Click and drag the left indent (the triangle) to the right, as far as you want the text to be indented. A common indent is about a half-inch. Notice that when you do this, the margin control will go with it, and all the text will be indented.

Google Docs Moving Indent Control
Drag the indent control to the right, and the margin control will go with it. We’ll correct that momentarily.

5. Click and drag the left margin control (the rectangle) back to the margin where it started.

google docs margin
Return the margin control to the left margin, and you’ve just created a hanging indent.

You’ve now made a hanging indent.

How to add a superscript or subscript in Google Docs to insert special symbols or page notes in a documentIs Google Drive secure? How Google uses encryption to protect your files and documents, and the risks that remainHow to add footnotes in Google Docs in 4 easy steps, to cite your research and provide linksThe 35 best Google Docs keyboard shortcuts for speeding up your workflow on a Mac or PC

Read the original article on Business Insider

15 Microsoft Word tips and tricks that will help any user work more efficiently

man using keyboard on laptop computer
Microsoft Word has many useful features you might not know about.

  • Microsoft Word is filled with little-known tips and tricks that allow for more efficient work. 
  • Some tricks, like “Focus” mode and quick translations, make writing and editing a breeze.
  • Other features, like a built-in Resume Assistant and a document-signing tool, can aid on professional documents.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

It’s easy to take Microsoft Word for granted, despite its reputation as an easy-to-use word processor. 

However, even everyday Word users might not realize how powerful the app is, or how many features it has beyond the simple editing commands we all know.

Microsoft Word tips and tricks

Taking time to explore Word’s more obscure corners can make the program even more useful for you. If you start using these tricks often, you might start to wonder how you ever went without them.

Here are 15 of our favorite Microsoft Word tips and tricks, all of which can save you time and energy while you work.

How to draw freely on Microsoft Word or insert shapes to customize documentsHow to delete a page in Microsoft Word, even if you can’t delete any text from itYes, you can use Microsoft Word on a Chromebook – here’s how to install itHow to open a Microsoft Word document in Pages on a Mac computer, and export a Pages file back to Word

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Are novelists already writing about the Covid era? An author investigates

JD People w Masks
People wear face mask in New York, Feb. 25, 2021.

  • The novelist Julia Dahl asked fellow writers how they are taking on, or steering clear of, the coronavirus. 
  • “We need to chronicle this,” said Jodi Picoult, who has multiple projects related to Covid. 
  • Others said they weren’t ready to process the pandemic, or they’re waiting to see what comes next.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Last month, I turned in the copy edits for my fourth novel. The next week, when I opened up the rough outline for my fifth, I was confronted with this question: does Covid-19 exist in the new book I’m writing? 

I dashed off a Tweet.


Most said they were steering clear. Author Kate Reed Petty, whose debut novel “True Story” received rave reviews, admitted: “I’m not ready to process it.” Laura McHugh, author of the award-winning “The Weight of Blood,” and “What’s Done in Darkness,” said she’s “completely ignoring it,” though for a slightly different reason.

“I don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be when this book comes out,” McHugh said of the manuscript she recently started. “I’d rather leave it out than get it wrong.” 

But some writers are diving in. I reached out to Jodi Picoult, the best-selling author who is known for mining social issues from school shootings to abortion to white supremacy, and she told me she’s working on two Covid-related projects.

“I feel as a writer it is up to us in the arts to really put into words what this has all meant, much like novelists were able to do that for 9/11, eventually,” Picoult wrote in an email. 

To that end, Picoult – who is also a librettist – is in production for “Breathe,” an original musical she co-wrote with Tim McDonald, about how the pandemic impacts five different couples. 

And though the novel she began co-writing with Jenny Boylan in April 2020 takes place pre-Covid, Picoult said she’s figured out a way to tell the story of the pandemic in the novel she’s just begun. 

“We need to chronicle this,” insisted Picoult. “We’ve already forgotten things we said and thought in March 2020.” Picoult said she is in the process of interviewing patients (42 as of last week) who survived ventilation from the disease. (Obviously, the woman doesn’t sleep.) 

JD jodi picoult
Author Jodi Picoult reads from her book “Between the Lines” at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2012.

Novelist Teddy Wayne, whose most recent novel “Apartment” was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, was also inspired by Covid, but in a very different way.

“I think my approach for anything that’s so monumental is that it’s more interesting to me to write about almost the mirror image of the thing rather than the thing itself,” he said.

The approach has worked for him in the past: Wayne’s first novel, “Kapitoil,” seems – from the description to the themes to the cover art – like a 9/11 novel, but actually takes place pre-2001. His way of writing about that seminal event was, he says, “not to write about it but around it.”

He’s taking a similarly indirect approach to writing about the era of Covid. Wayne was exposed to the virus in December and spent a week quarantining from his family. It was during this time alone that he looked through a file of ideas, saw something that had parallels to the pandemic, and started writing.

“Had there not been a pandemic going on, I’m not sure the idea would have appealed to me,” he said.


On March 17, 2020 – not even a week after lockdowns began across the country — Sloane Crosby published an essay in the New York Times Book Review titled, “Someday, We’ll Look Back on All of This and Write a Novel.”  

“The nature of tragedy,” she wrote, “is that it takes more than it gives, but it’s also produced some of our most iconic literature.” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Plague,” “Don Quixote,” among them. But, she warned: “From an artistic standpoint, it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it in everyone’s faces.”

Which brings us to the issue of publishing. Even established novelists have to sell the idea of their book to an editor; how many will green-light Covid novels? 

Zachary Wagman, Vice President and Editorial Director of Flatiron Books, has an open mind. 

“It’s up to the novelist to find an artful way to deal with it,” said Wagman, who pointed out that a thriller set during lockdown, or amid the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer could be really interesting. 

But he admits that striking the right tone will be tricky.

“No one [in publishing] wants to think they’re profiting off this slow-moving tragedy,” said Wagman. Like Wayne, Wagman wondered if, perhaps, “the better way is to sniff around the edges.”

And what about the reader? Many of us pick up a novel for entertainment or escape, but some of us are looking for a kind of understanding we can’t get from news. As Albert Camus, author of “The Plague,” put it: “Fiction is a lie through which we tell the truth.” 

northwell health
are prioritizing staff who work with COVID-19 patients and those most at risk of potential exposure.

Obviously, there are millions of truths and millions of stories to this pandemic, but how many are worth spending years writing? How many are important enough, insightful enough, to be bound and distributed? 

Teddy Wayne, who, like me, has been mostly holed up at home since March of last year, put it this way: “It’s not my story to tell.” His comment got me thinking: I wonder if the pandemic stories that will be the most illuminating are percolating inside people who are currently too worn out by the reality of the situation to get creative. I’m thinking about a restaurant novel – like Stewart O’Nan’s “Last Night at the Lobster” – but set in March 2020 – or the story of a grocery clerk thrust into the politics of masking in the middle of a presidential election. 

Maybe S.A. Cosby, author of the critically acclaimed “Blacktop Wasteland,” will use his experience as a former mortuary assistant to imagine the emotional truth inside the headlines about Los Angeles relaxing air quality rules to allow crematories to dispose of all the bodies that were piling up.

I asked Cosby what he thought of the idea and he was blunt: “It’s too raw.”

“I think I’m going to set my next book before the pandemic, if only because living through it has been so difficult that I’m just not mentally ready to deal with it in my work,” said Cosby, who told me he lost his uncle and five friends to the disease. “I will address it eventually, but hopefully by the time I do we will see a little more light at the end of the tunnel.”

I don’t aspire to write The Great Covid Novel, but as someone who writes about crime and justice (my first three books are murder mysteries and my next is a thriller), I spend a lot of time thinking about how people respond to stress. The mass unemployment, pervasive fear, and half-a-million dead Americans this past year have brought us an incalculable dose of stress. 

Should my next novel explore a character whose job loss becomes a catalyst for criminal activity? Or a family forced back into the same house during lockdown? The more I think about it, the less appealing it becomes, and the more Wayne’s words ring true.

That said, I try to mine the “now” in my work; is avoiding this past year a cop out? I asked my agent if she had an opinion on the subject and she put my mind at ease a bit: “I don’t think we’re done telling stories about life before March 2020.”

I’ve got a couple ideas.

Julia Dahl is the author of four novels and teaches journalism at NYU.

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