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an innocent accused (or even convicted if it's about an appeal)

extended courtroom scenes

a heart-breaking & out of nowhere twist that makes even the most heroic lawyer believe our innocent may be guilty, a variant is the innocent loses all hope in anyone believing them & tries to cut a deal/admits to guilt even tho they didn't do it

easily irritated judge who can make unpredictable rulings

usually there's a helpful media person (often a newspaper journalist) & a corrupt evil unhelpful one (often a physically attractive TV reporter)

bonus points for attempts to poison or suborn the jury or even sneakily somehow replace an entire juror with a ringer

double bonus points for corrupt law enforcement officers & smalltown mayors

oh, & if it's set in mississippi, as the best ones always are, there's a large dollop of racial conflict

read a few Greg Iles & John Grisham, & you'll be well on the way




 

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Significant knowledge of how the legal system works. (Of course, this will be bent to the needs of fiction, but readers of this genre tend to be sticklers for proper procedure.)
 

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wearywanderer64 said:
A lawyer too smart to be real.
yes, this too!

as with detective, it's a genre where brains & persistence should lead to the discovery of hidden truths most couldn't uncover
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
nightwork said:
an innocent accused (or even convicted if it's about an appeal)

extended courtroom scenes

a heart-breaking & out of nowhere twist that makes even the most heroic lawyer believe our innocent may be guilty, a variant is the innocent loses all hope in anyone believing them & tries to cut a deal/admits to guilt even tho they didn't do it

easily irritated judge who can make unpredictable rulings

usually there's a helpful media person (often a newspaper journalist) & a corrupt evil unhelpful one (often a physically attractive TV reporter)

bonus points for attempts to poison or suborn the jury or even sneakily somehow replace an entire juror with a ringer

double bonus points for corrupt law enforcement officers & smalltown mayors

oh, & if it's set in mississippi, as the best ones always are, there's a large dollop of racial conflict

read a few Greg Iles & John Grisham, & you'll be well on the way
Thanks a lot, nightwork. That's great stuff.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
J. Tanner said:
Significant knowledge of how the legal system works. (Of course, this will be bent to the needs of fiction, but readers of this genre tend to be sticklers for proper procedure.)
Thanks J. I'm working on that part now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
nightwork said:
yes, this too!

as with detective, it's a genre where brains & persistence should lead to the discovery of hidden truths most couldn't uncover
Gotcha. Thanks.
 

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Gregg Bell said:
Thanks J. I'm working on that part now.
keeping in mind i'm an avid reader of this genre but while i often have courtroom scenes in my books i'm not a legal thriller writer....

the best sellers in this genre often DO have law degrees but they also pick jurisdictions/settings where, for whatever reasons, the rules can get bent

assuming the US is the world center of legal thrillers, you have 50+ states & territories to choose from

best-selling authors tend to pick settings where there is some level of public corruption (Los Angeles, Chicago, Mississippi)-- even if everything doesn't go according to precedent, you can explain why (because public corruption causes not every t to be crossed and i to be dotted)

"work on it" but don't let "working on it" freeze you up
 

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Not a trope, but if/when Covid ends, there's going to be a huge backlog of trials. Generally speaking, courtrooms are open to the public. If you're aiming for realism, sitting in on some trials is a great way to learn what really goes on in the courtroom. It's also an excellent way to see the different techniques lawyers employ as well as to see the various ways judges conduct trials and their courtroom.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
nightwork said:
keeping in mind i'm an avid reader of this genre but while i often have courtroom scenes in my books i'm not a legal thriller writer....

the best sellers in this genre often DO have law degrees but they also pick jurisdictions/settings where, for whatever reasons, the rules can get bent

assuming the US is the world center of legal thrillers, you have 50+ states & territories to choose from

best-selling authors tend to pick settings where there is some level of public corruption (Los Angeles, Chicago, Mississippi)-- even if everything doesn't go according to precedent, you can explain why (because public corruption causes not every t to be crossed and i to be dotted)

"work on it" but don't let "working on it" freeze you up
Thanks a lot, nightwork. You're anticipating some of my other questions. I think I'm going to create other posts because this one is confined to tropes. And yeah, not getting frozen while writing this will be a challenge. Appreciate it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
alcyone said:
Not a trope, but if/when Covid ends, there's going to be a huge backlog of trials. Generally speaking, courtrooms are open to the public. If you're aiming for realism, sitting in on some trials is a great way to learn what really goes on in the courtroom. It's also an excellent way to see the different techniques lawyers employ as well as to see the various ways judges conduct trials and their courtroom.
Thanks alcyone. Your advice is a must. I have, in the last few years, been on a county and federal jury, so I have that experience, but being a juror I was almost exclusively focusing on the lawyers' presentations and witness testimonies.
 

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Gregg Bell said:
Thanks alcyone. Your advice is a must. I have, in the last few years, been on a county and federal jury, so I have that experience, but being a juror I was almost exclusively focusing on the lawyers' presentations and witness testimonies.
I'm a lawyer, and I actually got picked to sit on a jury a few years ago. It was fascinating to see things from that end. Most courts are online now, and some post their daily dockets which can be helpful if you're looking to watch a particular kind of case. I don't know how the other states are faring, but in my state, for the time being, there's going to be a huge backlog of criminal law cases to work through once the courts can function again. In the busier counties, we're being given civil trial dates out into 2022 right now.

The other suggestion I'd make is there's a series of books for law students called "Examples and Explanations." They are designed to help students prep for exams but they provide a fundamental overview of an area of the law and could possibly be helpful in creating scenarios or just in understanding the terminology. If you'll be writing trial scenes, I'd suggest the books on evidence and either civil procedure or criminal procedure. There's also a series called "Nutshells" but I found the E&E books better for their use of more "real-world" examples.

Good luck with your book!
 

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Do clients in legal thrillers need to be innocent? Doesn't that ruin the reveal?

I'm not a big legal thriller reader but I've seen enough film versions to know an appearing to be innocent but really guilty client is part of the fun.

And may I take this opportunity to recommend The Good Wife (indeed set in corrupt Chicago). (Also The Good Fight ofc!) The Practice seems to be pretty solid lawyering as well, though much less fun than TGW. Not thrillers ofc, but very long TV shows with some realistic ish lawyering. At least realistic enough to make other shows seem painfully unrealistic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
alcyone said:
I'm a lawyer, and I actually got picked to sit on a jury a few years ago. It was fascinating to see things from that end. Most courts are online now, and some post their daily dockets which can be helpful if you're looking to watch a particular kind of case. I don't know how the other states are faring, but in my state, for the time being, there's going to be a huge backlog of criminal law cases to work through once the courts can function again. In the busier counties, we're being given civil trial dates out into 2022 right now.

The other suggestion I'd make is there's a series of books for law students called "Examples and Explanations." They are designed to help students prep for exams but they provide a fundamental overview of an area of the law and could possibly be helpful in creating scenarios or just in understanding the terminology. If you'll be writing trial scenes, I'd suggest the books on evidence and either civil procedure or criminal procedure. There's also a series called "Nutshells" but I found the E&E books better for their use of more "real-world" examples.

Good luck with your book!
Thanks alcyone. Wow, 2022 for those trial dates. I bookmarked E&E and the Nutshell books. Thank you for the suggestions. I do feel like I'm back in school learning all this stuff, but it's fascinating too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Crystal_ said:
Do clients in legal thrillers need to be innocent? Doesn't that ruin the reveal?

I'm not a big legal thriller reader but I've seen enough film versions to know an appearing to be innocent but really guilty client is part of the fun.

And may I take this opportunity to recommend The Good Wife (indeed set in corrupt Chicago). (Also The Good Fight ofc!) The Practice seems to be pretty solid lawyering as well, though much less fun than TGW. Not thrillers ofc, but very long TV shows with some realistic ish lawyering. At least realistic enough to make other shows seem painfully unrealistic.
Thanks Crystal. I am so TV illiterate I didn't even know The Good Fight existed. I'd heard of TGW but didn't know what it was about. The Practice I'd heard of but never seen. Right now I have the first season of Law & Order and I can't stay awake watching it. You've given me much better options. The Good Fight looked good. I'll start with that. Thanks for bringing me into 2020.
 

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Gregg Bell said:
Thanks Crystal. I am so TV illiterate I didn't even know The Good Fight existed. I'd heard of TGW but didn't know what it was about. The Practice I'd heard of but never seen. Right now I have the first season of Law & Order and I can't stay awake watching it. You've given me much better options. The Good Fight looked good. I'll start with that. Thanks for bringing me into 2020.
Then my work here is done!

(I do find the first few seasons of Law and Order on the weaker side. The Brisco and Green years are the best, by far, IMO, but TGW and TGF are definitely better).
 

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Crystal_ said:
Do clients in legal thrillers need to be innocent? Doesn't that ruin the reveal?
they don't need to be but 90% of the time they should be because a huge part of the genre is identifying with the "it could be me in this situation of injustice"

having a twist where the client actually dunnit is okay if you lay the groundwork but it shouldn't be the majority of the novels in your catalog because so much of the genre is wanting to see someone win against all the odds

10% of the time injustice prevails because otherwise there's no suspense

(this is the difference between thriller & romance, in contemporary romance, love should ALWAYS win, but in contemporary thriller there needs to be an occasional nod to it doesn't... altho i'm still mad about that one Alafair Burke novel... shakes fist at sky... innocent man in jail at the beginning of book sentenced to life in prison at end of book is NOT what i came for... wanders off grumbling)
 

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nightwork said:
they don't need to be but 90% of the time they should be because a huge part of the genre is identifying with the "it could be me in this situation of injustice"

having a twist where the client actually dunnit is okay if you lay the groundwork but it shouldn't be the majority of the novels in your catalog because so much of the genre is wanting to see someone win against all the odds

10% of the time injustice prevails because otherwise there's no suspense

(this is the difference between thriller & romance, in contemporary romance, love should ALWAYS win, but in contemporary thriller there needs to be an occasional nod to it doesn't... altho i'm still mad about that one Alafair Burke novel... shakes fist at sky... innocent man in jail at the beginning of book sentenced to life in prison at end of book is NOT what i came for... wanders off grumbling)
Interesting. I think it's good for a genre to keep you on your toes. I do hate when I'm watching a legal procedural show and the lawyers always win. It kills the suspense.

Plus, it starts feeling unrealistic if the good guys always win.

Are legal thrillers always from the POV of a defense attorney for the wrongly accused? I'd think there are some civil cases in there too, where the good lawyer is fighting the big bad tobacco/firearms/pharmaceutical/etc company (based mostly on my watching of legal TV shows and movies based on John Grisham novels). I suppose a wrongly accused of murder everyman is more relatable than a lawyer taking on the tobacco industry. (Though it does not interest me personally. I am also not a reader of legal thrillers. Perhaps because of the former).

I do wish we could let go of the emotionally satisfying ending being the couple together and married forever in contemporary, but it does vary by subgenre. I got into romance via YA romance, where the rules are different and readers don't really expect the high school students to one day get married and move to the suburbs. (Why can't we enjoy a romance that's important in two people's lives that doesn't last forever? IDK. I have a few couples who I think may or may not make it, but don't tell my readers).

I do try to bittersweet up my endings a bit, because otherwise they feel unrealistic. It's no fun if the characters get literally everything they want in the end and it usually doesn't fit with the tone of a more weighty book.
 
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