Writing about a highly technical topic, like crime or 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 crime or legal story, a writer needs to have credibility.
Credibility comes from working within the rules of criminal law and speaking the criminal law language. But you don’t have to be a cop or lawyer to write about crime or criminal law with authenticity. Here are some tips to get started:
1. Brainstorm: As in any genre, a good story with interesting characters and plot twists must be the starting point. Physically write out 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 crime and legal drama. Read about crime in the news. Follow interesting trials. Watch true crime stories on television and read true crime books. You never know when some small tidbit will spark a story in you.
3. Outline: Everyone has their own methods of and opinions about outlining. Whether organized by chapter, act, scene, character or plot point, outlining is a critical tool to organize a story. The more complex the story, the more important an outline can be. Outlining can be especially important in a crime novel or legal drama because your story needs to fit within the rules of the criminal law world.
For example, if you want to have a piece of exculpatory evidence discovered at the end of act two, you will have to know what stage of the legal proceedings the case is in to help determine how the evidence could realistically come to light.
4. Educate Yourself: Read up about real criminal law on the internet and in books. Look for information specifically targeted to the non-lawyer. Watch real trials when they are televised. Watch true crime shows. Although they often cut out a lot of detail, especially the procedural stuff, they usually get things right. Read news stories and true crime books. The same warning goes for these sources: they are usually accurate but often leave out details you might want to know.
Do not rely on talking head lawyer commentators on television. They usually speak off the tops of their heads and often get things wrong. They also often have an agenda that they are pushing and speak of things from that point-of-view. Finally, do not rely on other criminal law fiction. Crime fiction in television, movies and books are often completely, eye-rollingly off the mark.
5. Consult an Expert: When in doubt, ask a question. As you brainstorm, outline and draft, keep notes of questions that come up. Consulting an expert, usually a criminal lawyer, can be costly, so try to know what you want guidance on before you contact someone. Also, be sure to speak to someone who is able to explain things simply and clearly, and who is willing to admit when they do not know something.
Following these tips will give a writer confidence to create within the world of criminal law and to begin writing crime and legal stories with authenticity.