Compelling writing must have a unique perspective to share with the reader—tell an interesting story. Boring writing is pro forma, flat, lifeless, and just says what happened in a boring and uninteresting way.
To illustrate, in journalistic writing a bad and uninteresting story may begin with the line: “The Springfield City Council met to approve more funding for police, which upset several citizens but was applauded by others.”
The difference between the great and mediocre in writing is finding out the way to tell your story in a compelling way—this applies to grassroots organizing, lobbying, and government advocacy, as well as writing and journalism.
One must cut through all the boring and uninteresting details and get to the heart of what matters to the human intellect and understanding.
Every story or public message has to have a point of view or perspective. Reporters commonly refer to this as the news “hook” or “take.” A story is not generally considered newsworthy unless it has an interesting news “hook.”
For example, the above lead regarding the Springfield City Council could read “Springfield City residents were infuriated that Council decided to spend additional money on police despite a string of recent wrongful death and brutality settlement awards and soaring complaints against the Department.”
I learned about journalistic writing while going to graduate school in Washington, D.C. My mentor was a Washington, D.C. lobbyist and former reporter for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
I remember first bringing some of my early articles to him and him saying “where is the story here.” He said the story is not “dog bites, man, that happens every day and is boring…the real story would be MAN BITES DOG!...because it is rare and hardly ever happens.” (Note: sure this rarely happens but its more of an illustrative point)
The fundamentals of journalistic writing, as well as public messaging, so I would always try to think in these terms of finding a compelling story to tell. The most interesting stories are the story equivalent of “man bites dog” as opposed to “dog bites man.” This story telling is what creates a successful public message that can be organized around and ultimately sway stakeholders and policymakers to your cause.
The Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy is currently developing a series of curriculum modules which aim to teach advocates, citizens, and community-based organizations how to construct a compelling message and develop successful grassroots organizing efforts, among other things.