How To Achieve Mediocrity In Writing, Installment #2

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Articles, For Writers
Tags: ,

One often-overlooked way to botch telling a story is to … forget to tell the story.

“Just the facts, ma’am,” is a fun little phrase and surely has some excellent uses. But too often, articles focus so much on the facts that they miss the human side of the story. These are a few things you can add to your article by being sure it’s telling a story:

  • Stickiness. While nearly everyone can agree that cancer sucks and should be cured, a list that tells the reader all the bad things about cancer while neglecting to tell the story of 5-year-old Annie who cries every night because her mother just died of the disease is a failure. Teaching someone the facts, textbook-style, without the nugget of a human impact flies out of the brain as quickly as it flew in.
  • Relatability. Statistics excite me, and nothing makes me happier than a chart. But, knowing that 12 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year is much easier than reading that millions of Annies will shed tears over a devastating loss. Make that connection for your reader. Evoke emotion that makes the numbers real and the affected people relatable.
  • Call to action. An active reader is an engaged reader. Create a purpose in each article. If Annie is the subject of your story and you want readers to fund cancer research, tell them how they can help prevent more crying Annies. If the point is to reduce the readers’ own risk, tell them how to live more healthfully and keep their own children from orphanhood. If you expect your readers to volunteer, tell them how giving their time can mean the world to Annie and her mother.

Lists are awesome. Boring facts are not. Find your subject and wrap your story around it. Your article will improve 100 percent.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

  1. Sheryl in Virginia says:

    I think your points are right on, but am wondering if they apply to something like a press release, which may not come ready-made with a story. Sometimes releases are just about announcing a change in a company or something rather mundane. Do you think even that kind of writing can be improved with your suggestions?

    • Press releases are meant to convey information quickly. Many companies issue what amounts to a bullet list of facts, and that’s fine. But I’ve seen several that develop an angle just in the first sentence or two that may keep the reader reading, and those sometimes seem better to me. It depends on the company and its culture. In the case of this post, I was thinking more about magazine articles that read like press releases. Unfortunately, I see it too often.

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