Writing Believable, Accurate Legal Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers / Christina Morgan

When writing a legal thriller, few things are more important than keeping the reader immersed in the story, and nothing can break immersion faster than inaccurate statements presented as truths. In this week’s Killer Nashville guest blog, author Christina Morgan discusses how to make sure your legal thriller is both believable and fast-paced, and she does precisely that in her Flesh and Blood Trilogy. Following these tips and tricks will ensure that your reader truly believes that what they are reading is possible.

Happy reading!
Clay Stafford
Clay Stafford
Founder Killer Nashville
Publisher / Editorial Director Killer Nashville Magazine


Writing Believable, Accurate Legal Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers
By Christina Morgan

On television crime dramas, DNA comes back in three minutes, crimes are solved in less than forty-two minutes, and defendants always buckle under the pressure of the prosecutor’s ceaseless and dogged examination, melt down, and confess to everything right there on the stand in front of judge and jury. While I can find entertainment value in these types of shows, I often want to hurl my remote at the television. Why? Because none of it is real, and they are very rarely an accurate portrayal of the judicial system and how it works. As a legal professional myself, it’s beyond frustrating.

So, if you’re planning on writing a novel with a protagonist who works in the legal field and/or where a majority of the plot revolves around the justice system, it is imperative you get the facts right. Not only will members of the legal community know you’ve got it all wrong, but even lay readers will be able to tell you didn’t bother to learn about you character’s chosen profession. This will ruin your credibility as an author and you want to avoid this no matter what it takes.

If you’re wondering if there’s a market for legal thrillers, I have a prime case study which proves legal thrillers can make a killing (pun intended). John Grisham has sold over 250 million books, makes an average of $20 million per year, and his net worth is a whopping $220 million[1].

So what does it take to write such prolific legal thrillers? Talent. Practice. Determination. Research. First, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already determined you have the talent to write great fiction. And if you’re doing it right, you’ve been practicing and honing your craft for quite a while. You must be determined to never give up and to keep on keeping on, even when the going gets tough. And finally, by research, I don’t just mean perusing the internet and reading Wikipedia (though there is a wealth of information out there in cyber space and you can learn quite a bit). I’m referring to actual, hands-on, in-person research. By this, I mean find yourself an attorney willing to answer all of your questions and tell you exactly what you need to know to pull off a convincing legal thriller. If you don’t already know one, call your city’s Bar Association. Tell them you’re an author seeking advice and/or information to assist in writing your novel. Tell them what field of law your character works in (criminal, civil, etc.) and they will almost always find one for you.

Now that you’ve found your attorney partner in crime, make a list of questions to ask them. Make sure your list includes procedural questions as well as substantive law questions. If you’re unclear on the difference, procedural would include legal how-to’s such as: how would my attorney protagonist file an appeal in a death penalty case; how would he/she conduct themselves at trial; how does a grand jury work, etc. Substantive law would include questions such as: what is the law on appeals; are wiretaps illegal in this state; what is the statute of limitations on armed robbery, etc.

Further, I advise that you ask your new attorney friend for a copy of a deposition transcript (redacted, of course). You will learn a lot from a deposition, including how objections really work, as well as legal terminology, and attorney lingo. Even better, call your local court clerk and ask when the next civil or criminal trial will be held. Trials are open to the public so you could sit in the gallery and take extensive notes on everything you hear and observe. I truly believe this is the best way to learn how the legal system works.

When I was writing my Flesh and Blood Trilogy (especially book one, kncover-morganLike Father, Like Daughter), I chose to have my protagonist work as a paralegal because with almost twenty years of experience as a paralegal myself, I felt I could write a convincing novel with believable characters and a compelling legal subplot. But even with my extensive experience, there were still things I was unsure about, so I leaned on my attorney buddies, court clerks, and judges to cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s.

Legal thrillers are fun, fast-paced, exciting reads, even for people not “in the industry.” You want to do your characters and your novel justice so the reader truly believes what they are reading is correct and possible. You don’t want to have any glaring errors. That could kill your book. So take your time, learn the biz, and get to work. Your readers will thank you.

Christina Morgan is the author of The Flesh & Blood Trilogy (Like Father, Like Daughter/Family Ties/Brother’s Keeper) and Confessions of an Old Lady. She lives in Nicholasville, Kentucky with her husband and two teenage daughters, three dogs (one of which is blind and has only three legs), and three cats (one of which is still relatively feral.) To learn more about Christina and her books, please visit her website at www.christinamorganbooks.com

[1] Source – http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/authors/john-grisham-net-worth/

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Thanks to Tom Wood, Jessica Crone, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog.

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