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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Legal Writing Tip: Model Narrative Nonfiction When Writing Your Briefs and Motions


By Leslie A. Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor

When writing briefs and motions, story principles can be effective persuasive tools. I’m not suggesting you make up facts. Instead, model narrative nonfiction – In Cold Blood and Eat, Pray, Love, for example. Those stories were true and also so gripping that movies were made from them. They have conflict, tension, compelling characters and unique settings.

When drafting briefs, particularly the facts section, remember the fiction-writing adage “show don’t tell.” Described another way: rather than telling the reader that it was raining, convey the feeling of being rained on. For example, instead of a bland “it rained,” write “moisture slammed down from the sky in dime-sized rivulets.” Instead of instructing the reader what to think, techniques like this make the reader feel. This takes more words than telling so alternate showing with shorter, purely factual sentences.
Like lawsuits, stories center around characters. Your protagonist – your client – faces a dilemma. How you convey it can influence how the reader believes it should resolve. For example, you can frame the antitrust Justice Department v. Microsoft case as the mighty government crushing a noble man (Bill Gates), or, alternatively, as man (the government, which represents the people) versus machine (Microsoft).

Include details about your protagonists that make the reader subconsciously root for them. Be deliberate about word choice and emphasis. One writing expert explained that you can describe a biting dog as a vicious animal or as a pet, a guard dog, a Golden Retriever or “Misty.” Even if your protagonist is a multinational corporation, focus on human elements like the employees or its business purpose (pharmaceutical companies save lives; banks help people own homes).

For more, check out “Fiction 101: A Primer for Lawyers on How to Use Fiction Techniques to Write Persuasive Fact Sections,” from a 2001 issue of Rutgers Law Journal.



A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. She is the author of Cheer: A Novel, which is available on Amazon. She can be reached at

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