Stories, or narratives, are the way most humans make sense of the world.
Nonfiction writing, expository texts, are the way most writers make a living and most college students earn a degree.
Then are we wasting time teaching students to write stories?
In my experience, the most memorable information is told through story. Therefore, good writers must know how to write good stories so when they begin to write about information, they will write about the information in a way that is memorable.
Writing stories or narratives requires several key elements to engage the reader:
1. creating a setting – where? when?
2. creating or introducing the characters – who?
3. describing a conflict – what? why?
4. describing the resolution – how?
Once students are proficient at writing a narrative, these skills can be translated into nonfiction or expository writing which requires several key elements to make the information appeal to the reader:
1. explaining context – where? when?
2. introducing the information – what?
3. creating or explaining the relevance – why? who?
4. describing the application – how?
As you can see, the basic formula for writing about a topic is answering questions. What makes a narrative compelling is the reader’s connection with the characters. What makes nonfiction compelling is the reader’s connection to the information. Where these two genres collide and make magic is when these skills are combined and create compelling characters interacting with interesting information.
Take for instance the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder which explains the health care system in a third world country by telling the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his experiences.
Teaching children to write narratives, then teaching children to write nonfiction can progress to making magic with combining the genres.
If the best writing advice is to “write what you know” then narratives is the best place to start for children because they know their stories. As they learn about the world, they can then share their knowledge with others. Finally, when they have experience with information, and they are proficient at writing narratives and expository, they will be able to write what the industry calls creative nonfiction.