March 26th, 2006

wood cat

Writing Across Disciplines

Another sucky week here at Chateau Steelypips, so let's talk about writing instead.

Apparently "ten things I know about writing" is going around as a meme. I'm not doing ten, because this is a specific list: ways that writing a legal brief is like writing a work of fiction, as noticed by me in the last couple of weeks.

  1. Reader expectations.

    You must know what your readers expect from you, at pretty much every level of the work—from the way a sentence will proceed, to the way that sections fit together, to the way the work will end. In fiction, you can violate those expectations, but you must know what you're doing so you can make it worth it. In legal writing, violating reader expectations is not recommended, because the consequences of annoying your readers are rather different.

    This struck my attention when, on the same day, alg had a "demystifying publishing" post on genre, and I asked for feedback on how suitable a draft brief was for a new-to-me audience.

  2. "Said" words.

    In fiction, "said" is invisible as a dialogue tag.

    When I got back a draft that replaced every "the court stated" with "the court said," I realized that the same rule applies to non-fiction.

  3. "I've suffered for my research, and now you must too."

    Yes, you did several boatloads of research before starting to write. Yes, you're proud of all the nuances and variations you now comprehend fully. Yes, it was important to have as complete a map as possible of the landscape before starting, because you can't know what path you're going to take without a map.

    But once you've picked your path, most of that information becomes entirely superfluous. And you don't get points for including superfluous information, no matter how hard-won it was.

  4. Other sets of eyes.

    People who will keep you from inflicting violated expectations, said-isms, and too much research on your readers? Priceless.