Tapping into values and emotions

Friday, August 11, 2017
Roselina Press

Roselina Press Headshot
Roselina Press

If you're looking to change entrenched beliefs, using emotion can be more persuasive than facts, says Roselina Press. Ahead of her upcoming workshop, we talk to Roselina about using storytelling to bring about social change.

When we talk about storytelling for social change, is that specifically about narrative non-fiction? Or can the idea of ‘storytelling’ also encompass opinion pieces, essays, academic articles, and other types of writing less commonly associated with story?

Whether you're writing an opinion piece for a newspaper, an article for a magazine, or an email to your local MP, storytelling is a technique that you can use to engage people (and hopefully motivate them to act) on social justice issues. For me, storytelling for social change involves finding the human faces behind the statistics or the legal and political debates, and bringing their experiences to the forefront. You can do this across any type of writing, no matter how large or small. 

As well as being a writer and communications specialist, you’re editor-in-chief of human rights media organisation Right Now. What are some common issues you come across when you’re editing pieces, which you’d advise writers to avoid?

It's quite common for writers to bury their opinions or arguments deep in their stories. But writers should do the opposite, especially when writing opinion pieces, where your goal is to persuade readers to change their minds about a social justice issue. Readers should find out very quickly, within the first few sentences, what you are writing about, where you stand on the issue, and why they should care about it. 

I also recommend putting a lot of thought into how you open your story, especially when writing online. You have about 5 - 10 seconds to convince a reader that they should read your writing. If you don't hook them in straight away, they will move onto something else that grabs their attention (most probably Facebook, cat videos or dank memes). 

What publishing advice would you give emerging writers who want to get their social change stories out into the world?

I would say, write! Write as often as you can. Also do some research around the publications you want to send your work to, and the kinds of stories they tend to publish, so you can tailor your work to their specific requirements. When writing about a subject that has a lot of existing media coverage and commentary, such as marriage equality or refugee rights, it also helps to consider what unique, or new, perspective you can bring to the issue. You'll increase your chances of getting published if you uncover something new, or give voice to an idea or argument that hasn't been heard before.

And of course, if you're interested in writing about social justice and human rights, Right Now magazine would like to hear from you! 

How much should a writer include their own emotions and beliefs when writing for social change? Is it key to remain objective wherever possible, or is subjectivity also important?

I don't think it's possible to be 'objective' when writing for social change. Nor do I think it's always helpful. We know that facts alone don't change entrenched beliefs. Just look at the debate around offshore detention, and refugees and asylum seekers. It is legal to seek asylum. The treatment of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, where they live in abusive and unsafe conditions, is illegal under international law. These facts are well known, but they do little to sway public opinion on Australia's refugee policy. Emotions such as fear can be more persuasive than facts — something that politicians know very well, and deploy every time they talk about refugees threatening 'national security.' The good news is that more positive emotions and values — such as love, equality, and fairness — can also shape people's views and drive their actions. When storytelling for social change, 'objective facts' alone won't persuade your audience or motivate them to take action —  powerful storytelling, that taps into positive values and emotions, is also really important.

About Roselina Press

Roselina Press is the editor-in-chief of Right Now, an Australian human rights media organisation. She is a writer, editor and communications specialist, and currently works at Oxfam Australia. She has a Master of International Relations and has written for Reuters, The Guardian and the United Nations Department of Public Information.