Friday, November 29, 2013

Storytelling for the Legal Writer

Non-Fiction Storytelling Advice for Lawyers

Lawyers tell persuasive non-fiction stories in letters, briefs, motions, negotiations, transactional representation, and oral arguments.

The Fall 2013 issue of the JALWD, the journal for Association of Legal Writing Directors, suggests two books that will make lawyers even more effective at describing the situations of the clients they represent. The reviewer of the first book, Jack Hart's Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (U. Chi. Press 2011), notes that people learn best when they receive information through story. Neurobiologists have watched fMRI images of people thinking in story structure. Hart explains:
[S]tory is story. The same underlying principles apply regardless of where you tell your tale . . . . Successful nonfiction storytelling requires a basic understanding of fundamental story theory and story structures the theory suggests. Ignore them, and you’ll fight a losing battle with human nature.
The book reviewer, Ruth Anne Robbins, calls the book "an eminently readable book," "skillful," providing "readily accessible and transferable messages," with examples drawn from the author's experience as a journalist.  The chapters cover topics including your distinct writing voice and point of view.

The second book, William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting (Warner Books 1983), is apparently a "raunchy," "painful," "funny," insider's view of the world of the Hollywood screenwriter responsible for the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, A Bridge Too Far, and The Princess Bride.

The reviewer, Ian Gallacher, finds the proof that "good writing in whatever form we might encounter it" comes from this "beautifully written" book in a fascinating, valuable, insightful, and entertaining way.  The four sections of the book cover the process of making movies, the roles people play in the process, the author's experience on the movies he scripted, a "brutally honest" analysis of the screenplay he wrote for Butch Cassidy, and an opportunity to see a short story converted to a screenplay.

The reviewer also describes the speed-writing process Goldman uses to write scripts after he has completed his research.  For Butch Cassidy, Goldman conducted eight years of research, but wrote the first draft of the script in four weeks.  The script, of course, went through numerous revisions, but the speed-writing technique allowed him to capture his creative passion.

The reviewer also highlights Goldman's emphasis on structure in a script.  "[I]f the structure is unsound, forget it."  Law students, struggling with the IRAC or CREAC organizational method, should pay attention to this advice.

The reviewer concludes:
Goldman has written other books about Hollywood, another about Broadway,and many books of fiction, and they’re all interesting, entertaining, and wonderfully written. But any writer, including any legal writer, who wants to learn from a master craftsman could do much worse than reading this book carefully. It’s an entertaining master class that will teach important lessons about writing while being appropriate beach reading. There aren’t many books about which you can say that.
This older book is still available on Amazon and in bookstores.  I just put it on my Christmas list. 

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