Thursday, September 18, 2008

Writing Styles

Once, two professional writing styles, the Attic and the Asiatic, vied for dominance.

"From classical Greek and Roman times, two literary traditions have grown alongside each other. One, a florid oratorical style called Asiatic prose, sported elaborate antitheses, complicated syntax, and correspondences in sense and sound. The other, Attic prose, was refined conversation: concise, restrained, shorn of intricacy." (Garner, The Elements of Legal Style (1991) p. 7.)

Today, it is said only the Attic remains standing, but Attic and Asiatic are really but points on a continuum; while the Asiatic extreme has died, and the Attic survives in the "plain English" school, all that is not Attic is not Asiatic, and your ghostwriter should be fluent in a spectrum of styles. Different weights on the writing virtues, Concision, Clarity, and Euphony, define the Attic and Asiatic styles, although both styles work within the constraint that Concision is the pre-eminent writing virtue. Within that constraint, the Asiatic gives still greater weight to concision, and the Attic gives negligible weight to Euphony.

That the Attic style emphasizes Clarity surprises no one, but claiming the Asiatic hyper-emphasizes Concision is unconventional. The prolixity of the Asiatic style is only apparent, however, the tightly worded but complex prose attaining heights of information compression. Appropriate even in its heyday only when conveying dense information, the Asiatic style was never the tool of choice for drafting a short business memo. Justice Cardozo — a master of the Asiatic style, Attic style, and the shades between — explained that the Asiatic style is suitable to cases hinging on a nuanced probate instrument's interpretation.

Apart from the writer's spontaneous adaptation of style to material, semi-Asiatic styles serve purposes in brief writing. The style of writing is one of the few ways, for example, to appeal directly to the judge's emotions. When writing to a hostile court, the writer should use more Euphony, to create positive feelings that can become conditioned to your position and help improve the judge's opinion of it, and more Concision, to avoid above all trying the judge's patience.

To see a shift from a more Attic to a more Asiatic writing style, compare briefs I wrote to the California Supreme Court before and after I learned of the court's hostility.

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