I am a criminal lawyer as well as a writer, and the main reason I didn't want a lawyer as the hero was because I was worried I would get bogged down with the need to be accurate. As a result, I made my hero a crime journalist, so that you get all the fun of the crime without the rules.

But how much does accuracy matter, if accuracy would make it duller, or if inaccuracy would make it more interesting? Do readers forgive legal or procedural errors if the story is still great fun to read, or do inaccuracies detract from the story by making it less believable?

As an example, a murder trial would take place maybe six months after the arrest, but if the trial is part of the plot, skipping six months can seem odd. So is it okay to make the trial a week later, just to keep the momentum, even though everyone knows it wouldn't happen like that?

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Short answer? It matters. Readers are pretty smart and get irritated quickly when there are glaring inaccuracies in novels. I'm not saying you have to go nuts trying to get everything perfect, but big "no way can that ever happen" events are massive speed-bumps that can derail the story before it has a chance to get going. The fact is that there always seems to be somebody who will pipe up to let you know if you've made a mistake and if you do it on purpose...well, it won't likely do you any favors.

BTW, it's perfectly okay to make a jump to the trial (writers do this all the time, often by separating a story into sections for big time jumps) if your story line demands it.

Just my two pennies...
I think you'd need to try harder in your scenario to justify a quick trial. The defendant could speed things up by certain decisions being made, right?

On the other hand legal thriller novelists do play fast and loose with reality some times. For example, in one of Lisa Scottoline's novels--and she's an attorney, by the way--a major character who'd framed himself for murder (thinking his daughter was the real killer) isn't prosecuted for obstruction when the truth comes out late in the novel.
For me it depends on the book. I can believe (well, more like overlook) the fact that Richard S Prather's Shell Scott can get badly beaten up by two sets of bad guys and still have the time and the energy to sleep with a blonde, brunette and a redhead before morning. I'm not going to believe the same of, say, George Pelecanos' characters. And as for facts, it really depends on the reader. If you're writing a book where a character is fishing and you write that a minnow weighs 6 tons, someone who knows anything about fishing is going to be really annoyed. Me? I'm going to say "my my, that's a jolly big fish". If you say that the Ramones were called Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Walter, I'm probably going to be a bit peeved and wonder if I can believe anything else in the book. My mum, however, wouldn't notice a thing. Bending the truth is fine, but snapping it in half and running over it with a steamroller isn't. Overall, I'd much rather have entertainment than accuracy, but if the inaccuracies are major and avoidable then I'm probably not going to be entertained anyway.
There is an art to presenting inaccuracries, even impossibilities, in such a way that the reader can suspend disbelief. I say CAN suspend disbelief because, if the reader isn't already caught up in your story, it isn't going to happen. The first step is to acknowlege the elephant in your closet.

"Normally an elephant would never fit in Darlene's closet, but this was a very unusual elephant."

Next comes the tricky part. JUST enough reason must be presented so that you don't come over as defensive. Too much detail will lose your reader every time. The reader needs to be able to say "Well, I can see how that might happen if.... but if you pound it to death it just gets more and more implausible.

Secondly, everything around the impossibility must be very accurate. You can't be sloppy.

The final resort--your character expresses incredibility.

"Charlie straightened his hose. He wondered how long he could keep pretending to be female. It was just too easy. He weighed two hundred and thirty pounds, had hands the size of small melons, a husky voice and frequently sported a five o'clock shadow but still no one questioned the charade. He was bored, he wanted to leave, but where could he go? Where else on the face of the earth would he find people this stupid?"

Give your reader reason to want to believe.
Just to be incredibly helpful - it all depends. Chris Nyst (in Australia) is a criminal lawyer and he writes some hilarious books with a lawyer as one of the characters. But he also switches the focus a tiny bit by having a strong supporting cast - including some very colourful crims, pollies and other assorted goings on so, frankly, I doubt that you'd notice any slight procedural hiccups as they move along at a fast clip.

On the other hand I find some legal procedurals that spend so much time outlining the court processes and filling in what's happening in court, I can almost understand the urge that makes one become a defendant in some of those cases [vbeg]

Mind you, I'm not a lawyer (or up until now a defendant) so what would I know.
Believability is what matters, not truth. BTW: I would think you'd create a more believable world with an attorney as your protag, not a journalist. Why not take readers into a world you know inside and out?
I don’t think believability has that much to do with knowing your world inside and out, i.e. writing a lawyer if you’re a law professional. Isn’t that what research is all about?

I’m no fan of “write what you know.” How boring would that be?
My MC is a lawyer representing children, which is what I also did for ten years, and I have tried to be accurate most of the time. I have had to bend some things...for example during my times in court I never set out to single handedly solve murders and thus propelled myself into danger...but I have tried to keep the deatils accurate. The correct terms for things, the correct hierarchy etc I think is importatant and also adds to the overall imagary.
The more you know about your field, the more complex this decision becomes. In the end, the story dictates what goes in and what stays out. Those writers who do an incredibly sloppy job of research generally clutter the works with every bit of irrelevant detail.

As a reader, I detest irrelevant detail.

As for the time line: this affects pacing, and I would vote for jumps and/or epilogs, but then I don't write legal thrillers. The only great one I read was Connelly's LINCOLN LAWYER. Might have a look at that.
Irrelevant detail is a crime against humanity. Yes, how do I really feel about it? Everything you write should build toward character, plot ,or mood. Most trivia fans read nonfiction. A little bit goes a long way.

The sure mark of a beginner is a series of long descriptions that go nowhere. "Look at me! I can write!" There always has to be a why.

Hi Neil,
You're probably aware being British of Hitchcock’s little mantra: 'Drama is like life with all the boring parts cut out.'' (That might not be the exact quote, but it's close) and that's where I come down on the issue. I think you're fine to cut the actual time--so long as it's seamless in the narrative and doesn't involve some outlandish gross error (like the judge being the defendant’s ex-wife or something). I guess the touchstone would be, IMO, if it takes the reader out of the story than you have to reconsider using it. ... Of course, the whole issue might be resolved by a simple transitional sentence-- ... and six months later ... personally I think everyone warps plot related events to Story to some degree or another. If people want unfiltered (dramatized) reality I think they can go read a trade journal or perhaps (and it’s a big perhaps) read the news. If I remember correctly we’re entertainers, not reporters.

If you can't be both, please be interesting.
;-p Mari


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