Why do so many law articles—my own included—leave readers cold? One reason may be that they lack fundamental elements that make up a good story. They lack tension. They lack narrative arc. Over my years teaching seminars and exchanging drafts with colleagues, I’ve developed a recipe that helps me organize ideas into a form that better engages the reader. I’ve also found it to be conducive to a richer, more generative writing process.
The recipe is inspired by guides on dramatic plot. It has three parts: exposition, confrontation, and resolution. The exposition introduces the conflict. In many instances, this conflict is personified through a hero and a villain. We learn about the stakes, and we appreciate the formidable obstacles that our hero must overcome to reach his goal. Of course, what appear as obstacles to our hero are advantages to our villain, so the exposition can also be thought of as the villain’s day in the sun.
The second part of the dramatic plot—the confrontation—is the showdown, the battle of the titans. In increasingly dramatic skirmishes, suffering setbacks and recovering from them by the skin of his neck, our hero claws his way to the climax, the mother of all battles, from which he emerges victorious.
Finally, in the resolution, loose ends are tied, subplots are completed (lovers embrace, helpers are rewarded, troublemakers get their comeuppance), and we meet our new hero—a man who represents the integration of all we have learned, a radiant manifestation of conflict transformed.
Shari Motro, At the Lectern, The Three-Act Argument: How to Write a Law Article That Reads Like a Good Story, 64 J. L. & Educ. 707 (2015)