Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Five words or less

One of the tricks to writing a really persuasive legal memorandum or appellate brief is to break the argument down into bullet points that are no longer than a single line, which can be used as bolded headlines. It's useful to the reader, but it's also a good test of whether I really comprehend what I'm trying to write about. If I can't distill the argument into a few simple principles, like the steps in a syllogism, then I'm not ready to plow through all the more complicated precedents and the detailed applications of the law to the facts of the case.

The host of Marketplace Money on NPR uses a similar device in a different context, asking his CEO guests to distill what their companies do in five words or less, and apparently very few of them can do it. While I was listening to today's guest stumble around, it dawned on me that I wasn't sure I'd do much better if I were trying to describe my stories in just five words.  

The one that's in beta right now is: Quilt appraiser solves [antiques]dealer's murder. (Okay, six words, but if I leave out "antiques," the victim sounds like a drug dealer, which doesn't fit well with a cozy mystery.)

My primary WIP right now is: Cranky amateur sleuth grows garlic. I think that description needs work, though, to make it clear that the sleuth is investigating the death of the person who left her the garlic farm. Maybe: Cranky garlic farmer solves aunt's murder. Except that's six words too. I suppose it could be just Cranky farmer solves aunt's murder, but the garlic gives it more flavor!

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