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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I like the latter two comments, that we're entertainers.

The "quick trial" scenario outlined was an example, not a future plot plan. I reckon I could pass the layperson test. I think I was worried that I would want to pass the scrutiny of another criminal lawyer, and that's why I avoided having a series written around a criminal lawyer. It would bog me down and I would forget that I was supposed to be interesting.

It's a tricky balance. As someone said, a huge inaccuracy makes the writer look lazy. Maybe the question to ask is not whether an event would happen, but whether or not it could.
There is an obligation to truth telling, however. IMO this comes from character, not necessarily plot. An egregious error in characterization (either a reaction, or course of action taken) is going to be far worse than getting wrong the day of the week the Battle of Waterloo took place. (Which everyone knows was a Tuesday) Also, the bridge for smoothing over these less than completely factual elements will come mainly from character. The suspension of disbelief is a white rabbit most readers will follow if they like Alice.

Charles
You would have to address the reasons why trials are usually held six months later in spite of the mandate in American law that tries to insure a speedy trial. Besides the sad fact that the wheels of justice are clogged by the volume of criminal activity, the defense lawyer usually likes to have some of the heat die down and the prosecution has to find and present evidence. If you find quick, plausible reasons why this could all happen in a week, sure. Possibilities?

Your jurisdiction has a new law on the books that insures a speedy trial within one month.

The defense lawyer is in a very friendly place where everyone has a reason to believe the accused is innocent.

The prosecution has a lot of pull and feels it doesn't need to accumulate further eveidence and everyone already knows what happened.

Through some miracle, not a single other case is on the docket and the judge does not want a vacation. (THAT might be hard to pull off.)

It could be done but it would probably be easier to insert a few scenes of jail life and other developments taking place in the between time and procede normally. Lots can, and usually does, happen between indictment and trial.
I think people can get mightily caught up in the detail. I've been writing a period piece set in the 1930s and have been similarly bogged down by this kind of thing. Also, when you have other amateur writers reviewing your work they tend to have a bee in their bonnet about either (i) grammar -- and this can get to the point of fixation with >some people or (ii) factual accuracy. I'm writing about Eliot Ness, and the Kevin Costner movie I saw the other week of the Untouchables had him with a family & children--which is patently untrue. So if it's good enough for David Mamet to wing it for the sake of plot, I can do it, too.

My advice is don't sweat the small stuff: if it works for the story--do it. You're writing to entertain, amuse, shock etc if you're writing fiction. It doesn't matter if you make mistakes--it's a story for Chrissakes!
Exactly.
:-) Mari
oh, I so love your reply! I just don't know if I can wing writing realistically about a policeman! I'm going to give it a try though. If you have time pls see my discussion posted 1/3/08
Accuracy does count; however, it doesn't mean that you have to spell out every little detail of the legal process. The question to ask is, do those details move the plot forward or grind the story to a screeching halt?

With respect to your question about a timeline, you can easily fast forward six months into the trial by breaking the text into chapter sections or by adding a transitional section that leads the reader into the following chapter that takes place six months later. It's all on how you pace the writing and handle the transition to make it believable for the reader.

I've recently read two books that address your concerns. The first was written by a former detective who is now a trial lawyer. In his crime fiction, he added so many details about the legal process that it distracted me from the plot. I felt as if the author was force feeding me his legal knowledge. I want to know that the author knows what he's talking about, but I don't want a textbook lesson.

The second book was beautifully written in the killer's POV. It's a compelling story that drew me in and captured my attention throughout the read until I reached the end. This author conveniently allowed the killer to confess the crime in the last couple of chapters without an investigation or prodding. The killer gave a detailed account of how the crime was committed yet the reader was never allowed to see the clues as they developed. What is unfortunate about this is that many of the things the killer did were very much a part of the characterization and would not have given the killer away. Maybe others won't notice that some very obvious things were not collected from the scene of the crime, but I immediately picked up on several points where this author dropped the ball. The ending was rushed, too conveniently solved, and left me with more questions than answers. In this instance, the lack of details ruined what would have been a fantastic novel.

For me the bottom line is balance. Hope this helps.
The bottom line IS balance, developing your characters, advancing your plot and not insulting the reader. Maybe there are a whole series of bottom lines.

:-p Mari
I vote for a certain amount of literary license, but I am more of a reader than a writer. I am not sure how valid my opinion is. If I were a published author, I might have a different answer. The "errors" cannot be too blantant, however. My late husband, a private pilot, was forever watching war movies with airplanes, and he would often point out errors that the average viewer would never even notice. Example: A plane seen in the air was not the same one that left the ground. He could tell, but I was clueless. Most of the people who read your books will not have law degrees. Your lawyer friends will, I am sure, let you know if your make a factual mistake.
What is your main story? Is it the courtroom drama or the murder. You can reveal the murder through expert testimony and still have a dead body on page one or make that six month wait for the trial interesting with a DA's re-election campaign or a jurisdictional fight. Then there is always the transitional sentence: "Six months of jail time sat well on defendant. X"...
One nice thing about being a writer is that readers almost always give you the benefit of the doubt. They assume you know what you're talking about and unless you throw in some totally obvious error, you are generally safe. That doesn't mean one should totally wing it when writing of something on which one is not quite sure. For that reason, it's nice to develop a network of friends with expertise in fields you yourself may not have.

So there is a rather wide catwalk here. A novel about lawyers is sure to be more heavily scrutinized by those readers who are themselves lawyers (it's fun to know enough about a certian area to pick out mistakes), but the fact is that 99 percent of the readers are NOT lawyers and therefore more prone to just going along with you unless you throw something at them that a third-grader would spot as wrong.

For anyone concerned with whether to be accurate or interesting, they are not mutually exclusive, and common sense should help the writer steer a course through the shoals of accuracy.

Dorien

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