Writing on a very technical topic, like crime or the law, can be intimidating. In the world of criminal law there are innumerable rules, practices and procedures. Criminal lawyers speak their own language. To write a good criminal or legal story, a writer must have credibility.
Credibility comes from working within the rules of criminal law and speaking the language of criminal law. But you don’t have to be a police officer or a lawyer to write about crime or criminal law authentically. Here are some tips to get started:
1. Brainstorm: As in any genre, a good story with interesting characters and plot twists should be the starting point. Physically write brainstorming ideas without regard to order, quality, or completeness. Just start writing and let the ideas flow.
2. Get inspired – Inspiration often comes from outside sources, often unexpectedly. Read great books and watch great movies, especially about crime and legal drama. Read about crime in the news. Follow interesting essays. Watch real crime stories on television and read books about real crimes. You never know when a little bite will spark a story in you.
3. Scheme: Everyone has their own methods and opinions about the scheme. Whether organized by chapter, act, scene, character, or plot point, the outline is an essential tool for organizing a story. The more complex the story, the more important an outline can be. Description can be especially important in a crime novel or legal drama because its story must conform to the rules of the criminal law world.
For example, if you want an exculpatory piece of evidence uncovered at the end of act two, you will need to know where the case is in the legal proceeding to help determine how the evidence could realistically come to light.
4. Educate yourself: read about real criminal law on the internet and in books. Look for information specifically directed at people who are not attorneys. Watch real trials when they are televised. Watch real crime shows. Although they often remove a lot of details, especially procedures, they generally get things done right. Read news and books about real crimes. The same caveat applies to these fonts: they are generally accurate but often omit details that you might want to know.
Do not trust the top lawyer commentators who speak on television. They usually speak from the top of their heads and are often wrong. They also usually have an agenda that they are pushing and they talk about things from that point of view. Lastly, don’t trust another criminal law fiction. Crime fiction on television, movies, and books is often completely out of place.
5. Consult an expert: When in doubt, ask a question. As you brainstorm, sketch, and write, take notes of the questions that come up. Consulting an expert, usually a criminal lawyer, can be expensive, so try to find out what you want guidance on before contacting someone. Also, make sure you speak to someone who can explain things simply and clearly, and is willing to admit when they don’t know something.
Following these tips will give the writer the confidence to create within the world of criminal law and begin to write legal and criminal stories with authenticity.