Monthly Archives: October 2013

Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart

This is a review (newly edited) that I posted a while ago on my older blog, which has served as my “go to” blog since I began blogging. I have some relevant materials there that I’ll share here as well. I believe that the contents of my original blog will explain why I think that it’s relevant to this blog. For a comparison, look at this review from Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD.

The art of telling an effective story, whether as a matter of fiction or of non-fiction, has become increasingly celebrated and promoted as the most effective means of communicating a message. Wherever we turn for advice about communicating effectively, we are told about the power of story or narrative (if you prefer the more hifalutin term). The reasoning is simple: we seem programed to remember stories that are tales across time involving characters who engage us in their quests.

Jack Hart is a professional journalist who describes the skills needed to write an effective non-fiction story for a newspaper or magazine. The book provides a number of tips and explanations about how good stories come to be written. But he also includes consideration of the usefulness of communicating other than by narrative, such as by explanation. However, the stories that Hart’s colleagues have written on a wide variety of topics have enhanced their effectiveness (and one assumes their readership) by use of a strong narrative line. The elements, when you reflect upon them, seem almost self-evident: characters (persons that we can care about and understand), a conflict or obstacle that present the characters a challenge, change through time (a narrative arc), and a well-researched facts. Like lawyers, journalists have a professional ethical obligation to “tell the truth”, as problematic has that statement always is. Both professions require us to ground our narrative in some sense in “what really happened”, perhaps easier for journalists because they don’t (or least shouldn’t) work for self-interested clients. One of the points that Hart rightfully addresses includes the ethics of required for appropriate truth telling.

Who might enjoy this book? Anyone who might want to tell a story, fiction, or non-fiction. (In truth, the fundamentals are not so different and Hart draws in a number of sources that originally addressed issues of fiction and play writing.) However, I read it from the point of view of a lawyer, an attorney, an advocate. I’m convinced more and more that our first job as an advocate is to learn and then tell our clients’ stories in a comprehensible and engaging manner. In some cases the law may prove an insurmountable road block to a remedy, but in most cases, especially any case that requires a trial or hearing to resolve the issues, telling the clients story, and thereby making the client and the client’s plight as sympathetic as possible, is the most important aspect of representation. Lawyers don’t write essays about “why my client should win” in “25 words or less”, but our briefs come close to allowing us to do that (and considering the “25 words or less” isn’t a bad idea either). As advocates, attorneys need to become as literate in telling a story as we are in forming an argument (which, of course, may incorporate storytelling). We especially face issues with younger jurors and lawyers who have a more native mastery of visual storytelling that older, logocentric lawyers like me lack. If the book has one weakness, it’s that it is limited to telling stories through the written word. Oral and visual storytelling must gain a place in the advocate’s arsenal as well as the use of the more traditional written word.

A fine book, well considered and well written (not for the most part in storytelling mode, I might add) that most anyone with curiosity about this topic would enjoy.


What Is “The Persuasive Life”?

Atticus Finch didn't win the batter, but he helped win the war for civil rights. His character represents the ideals of the lawyer-advocate.
Atticus Finch didn’t win the battle, but he helped win the war for civil rights. His character represents the ideals of the lawyer-advocate.

“The Persuasive Life” is a new blog that intends to address issues of persuasion, advocacy, lawyers, and the law. It reflects my interests, both personal and professional. Each individual life exists in a sea of relationships, and the attendant persuasion—understood in the broadest terms— the we exercise defines the quality of each life. From this very global, even metaphysical, perspective, I intend to range down into the particulars of the law in which I’ve practiced for over 34 years. I hope to cover all of the in-between as well. I intend this blog to benefit anyone who cares to read it, lawyer or not. It should benefit anyone because I believe that the quality of our lives arises from our ability to relate, to communicate, to persuade, and to be persuaded by, others.

The content of the blog will include both my writing as well as other sources that I find pertinent to these very broad topics. For those pieces that I import from elsewhere, such as from other blogs, I intend to write an introductory paragraph explaining why I think the information is useful. Indeed, I will be digging back to some of my older book reviews and blog posts to obtain material for this blog.

Since leaving the active practice of law about 14 months ago, I’ve had the time and the occasion to think about lawyering and legal advocacy. I was fortunate that in October 2012 Mind Merchants LPO of Jaipur India and I discovered each other. Consequently, I became involved in, a flat fee, pay-per-use legal research site. From the design of the website to the training of the staff to the production of actual research memos, I played an active role. I especially benefited from the opportunity to work with young Indian lawyers and train them in the ways of American lawyers. This gave me a lot of reason to think about legal writing, legal research, and persuasion in general. Indeed, my brief stint as a legal writing teacher for them (which I continue as a consultant and quality control manager for The Legal Taxi), spurred me to review and improve my own legal writing, teaching, and communication abilities.

For lawyers, I wish I could tell you I won every case and prevailed in every appeal. I didn’t. I can also tell you that now over a year of away from the active practice, during bouts of insomnia or jet lag, I don’t ponder the cases I won. I keep retrying and re-arguing the ones I lost. While this is futile in the obvious sense, there is some value in it. Such occasions prompt me to consider how I could’ve presented a better case and gained a favorable ruling. I tried not to take cases that I didn’t think my clients and I should and could win. (I consider representation a joint venture between lawyer and client.) In those cases when we weren’t successful, I believe I can benefit from contemplating what we could have done differently. I hope that through this blog and through my new venture to offer my legal writing and consulting services to other lawyers, I can bring some benefit to my fellow lawyers and other advocates that I have gained through my school of hard knocks and reflection.

I’m publishing this blog as a part of my work as a freelance lawyer for legal drafting and case preparation. I think of it as my personal CLE course, for which I can only receive credit from you, the reader. I hope that you share my enthusiasm.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for the blog. I read a lot, and my wife has chided me about sharing what I learn. My blogging career to date (here and here) has been an effort to respond to that challenge, as well as my Twitter account. This new blog, I hope, will further that project.

Without further do, then, let us explore and create the persuasive life.