Thursday, December 09, 2010

Apologies to Tolstoy

The amazing Theodora Goss writes that:
With apologies to Tolstoy, all A papers are A papers in their own way. They don’t just lack mistakes. They have something extraordinary about them, a level of engagement with the texts, a felicitous style. They grab and keep your attention, and it’s interesting to think about what does that. Usually, I think, it’s the student’s voice. The student already has an individual voice. The student is already thinking, and writing, in his or her own way. There’s an enormous pleasure in seeing something like that.

Shorter Ms. Goss: When it's done well, we cannot know the dancer from the dance.

I find that the same thing is true of a compelling legal brief; I spend almost as much time reading and editing briefs as I imagine Ms. Goss spends on student papers. And there's little that sends a thrill down my spine quicker than a well-written brief -- although it's painful if it's a brief directed against my position. Good legal writing is something that people like to pretend is an oxymoron. But good legal writing is, IMHO, some of the best writing that there is. It informs, persuades, and carries the reader along in an elegant and almost seamless manner from the initial question to what appears, by the end, to be the only possible conclusion.

How do you know good writing when you see it?

Picture found here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your description is very apt. The other quality of writing I have noticed from a writer's perspective, which is perhaps invisible to the reader, is that word order has more power than one might expect. Sometimes the simple removal of one word from one place, and its insertion into another, makes the sentence sing with power and grace.

Gods bless computers, which allow us to do that with ease!