I recently read Mike Moritz’s piece on Stephen Schwarzman.
This post isn’t a commentary on the content. It’s an attempt to dissect Moritz’s stellar writing ability. Why was that post fun to read? It’s starts in the opening:
For devotees of President Trump, the first gathering on Friday of his business council, which featured 17 executives, may have looked like a colorized version of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but for those focusing exclusively on the rapport between the two leaders, it resembled “Goodfellas.”
Colorful metaphors are a cornerstone of his writing. I personally find them pleasurable because of the absurdist mental image they trigger. A balding, blond Robert DiNero with briefly flashes before my inner eye. Ha ha. That’s funny. Moving on:
Sitting alongside Mr. Trump was the head of the council, Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the private equity firm Blackstone Group, wearing Washington’s newly obligatory red tie.
Another example of using words to evoke vivid imagination (as you read, you can almost “see” the tie) and a subtle way of conveying Mr. Schwarzman’s differential nature.
[Blackstone is] the equivalent of making a small down payment on your neighbors’ house; paying for the balance by taking out a mortgage secured by their savings, jewelry, silverware and car; selling off the contents of their property; and then siphoning off some of the loan for yourself.
This analogy quickly simplifies the financial shenanigans Blackstone pulls off and helps the reader quickly grasp why it should seem evil.
Perhaps, after Friday’s meeting, traveling together aboard Air Force One to Mr. Trump’s club in Florida, Mr. Schwarzman explained to Mr. Trump that he could make America great again by employing the same tactics Blackstone used after its $4.1 billion acquisition in 2006 of Travelport, a travel-reservations business that within a year of the purchase had laid off 841 workers, or 10 percent of its work force.
More visual storytelling. You can almost imagine a giddy Mr. Schwarzman conspiratorially conversing with the President, supplemented by the hum of the 747 in the background.
a move that, with the stroke of a pen, would curb many abuses and protect American workers and others whose standard of living has barely budged in a couple of decades.
“With the stroke of a pen” conveys meager difficulty much more than “easily”.
The lower- and middle-income Americans who voted for Mr. Trump in droves would do well to listen hard to what Mr. Schwarzman is advising. They’ll hear the sound of dollars being sucked out of their pockets and slipped into the wallets of the 1 percent.
A final treat in the closing paragraph (“listen hard” to “the sounds of dollars”).
So what actionable things did we learn? Two stand out for my next essay:
1. Force the reader to “see” things. Was the Air Force One anecdote crucial to the story? No, but it’s fun to read.
2. Analogies as a way to convey the complex. In particular, a flow of describing the complex thing and then supplementing with the narrative leaves a potent dopamine hit. You read the first paragraph, experience quasi-understanding and then have an “aha!” moment when you read the simplified analogy.
Alternately… perhaps we could use ML to re-write essays to include these two elements.