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  • Writer's pictureRob Carty

Statements of Fact, The South Park Way

In August 2024, Comedy Centrals South Park will celebrate its 27th anniversary. This controversial series has had an impressive reignits probably older than some of your colleagues. But can it teach us brief-writers anything about telling stories? Lets take a look at the South Park method.

Phase 1: See the problem

As advocates, one of our biggest challenges is writing cohesive statements of fact that are easy to follow and remember. We need to tell compelling storiespreferably memorable ones that prepare the court to rule in our favor even before we reach our legal arguments. Yet too often, we present statements of fact that just recite a series of events. They may be accurate and they may be complete, but they just dont hold the readers attention. Rather than each fact emerging naturally and effortlessly from whats already happened, our fact statements sometimes read like a punch list. After a while, they start to tax the readers memory.  The early facts fade, and no familiar theme emerges. The reader may need to start over to grasp the full story.

Phase 2: ?  

To present the most compelling story, we cant just move from fact to facteach one must flow from the others in a logical and credible way.

But enough with these abstractions. Whats a good, concrete way to build a cohesive story?

Phase 3: Profit

This is where South Park comes in. More than 10 years ago,* South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker gave a lecture at NYU describing how they build their stories. Here's a clip from that lecture; its worth taking two minutes to watch it.

Stone and Parker offer two simple steps for telling a cohesive story:

  1. Take two adjacent events from your story. If all youre saying is this happened, and then that happened, your story is boring and rudderless.

  2. Instead, the events should be connected by the words therefore or but. So instead of this happened, and then that happened, you should say either this happened, and therefore that happened or this happened, but then that happened.

Let me say it right up front: You dont have to use the words therefore and but” at every turn (although nothing should stop you from doing so when needed). The point is to present your facts so that these phrases (and similar ones) could be used. The conceptual links need to be there. That way, a logical thread will run through your presentation, making the story flow naturally and the facts easier to retain (because each one has its place).

I recognize that, unlike cartoon writers, youre stuck with the facts you have. But just like good fiction, reality has a natural cause-and-effect structure. Nearly every legal case can be turned into a story: a dog bite, a breach of contract, even shadowy boardroom intrigue. Do the work, write the story, reap the benefits.

*Because this lecture happened so long ago, I searched the web to see whether any other legal-writing bloggers had cited it. But I found nothing. Therefore, I decided to write this post. I hope it's useful, mkay.

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