Several Types of “Stock Stories” Can be Used in Persuasive Briefwriting.
Posted on May 29, 2012
As noted in my prior two posts in this series on the use of “stock stories” in brief writing, linked here and here, storytelling can be a powerful writing technique for appellate lawyers. In this context, storytelling is the process by which you weave the facts of your case into a brief in such a way that the narrative subconsciously reminds the reader of an innately familiar story where your client is placed in the role of the favorable character we all root for.
Stock stories consist of a basic plot line and standard characters that over the centuries writers have modified to create stories that seem new. For example, the Broadway play “West Side Story” may have seemed original in 1957, but it was based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Romeo and Juliet, in turn, was based on the Roman mythological story of the Pyramus and Thisbe. This basic story of ill-fated lovers that has crossed the centuries is now so ingrained in our subconscious mind that when reading the story of a troubled young romance, the reader will begin to expect the same tragic outcome. When used in a brief, careful blending of facts into a stock story can help influence the outcome of the appeal by leading the judges to a chosen conclusion.
So what are the stock stories?
There are many stock stories, literally dozens, and they can usually be found described in books on fiction writing, such as Theme & Strategy by Ronald Tobias, but not all are appropriate for the type of conflict that are the usual basis for a lawsuit. In my last post I mentioned one that can be called “the Quest” where the hero voluntarily goes on a dangerous journey, overcoming long odds, to win some kind of prize or honor. One example of such a story is the ancient story “the Odyssey” and a more modern version would be the movie, “The Warriors.”
Another stock story can be called “the Strange Voyage and Return,” which has the hero’s life suddenly transformed and the hero must struggle to return to a life of normalcy. An example of this is Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.” In litigation this might be the story of an injured worker, a car crash victim, or victim of malpractice.
Another stock story might be called “Falsely Accused,” where the hero is unjustly accused of some wrongdoing and must struggle to prove his or her innocence. An example would be the television series and the movie, “The Fugitive.” In litigation, this could involve a criminal defendant, or any other defendant against who highly critical allegations have been made.
Yet another stock story can be called “the Victim,” where the hero suffers some sort of undeserved wrong or victimization and must struggle against the injustice of a much more powerful adversary in a search for vindication. An example is the movie “V is for Vendetta.” Perhaps this could be the story of a victim of disability discrimination or workplace sexual harassment.
One more stock story can be called “Betrayed.” In this story one of the persons in a close relationship betrays and deeply harms the other, leaving the betrayed to seek revenge. A relatively recent movie with this plot line is “Gladiator.” In litigation this might be the story of a minority-ownership business partner or stockholders bringing a derivative action.
You simply have to engage your imagination to find a stock story that meets your set of facts. The next time you watch a movie or read a book, think of the plot and consider whether the type of cases you handle have facts at that are consistent with the basic plot line. With some thought on your part. especially if you represent the plaintiff, you can manage to fit the facts of your case into one of these stock stories, or any number of others. In my next post, the last in this series, I will describe how I utilized storytelling in writing a winning appeal bief.