Top Tips for Writing Legal Thrillers

The release of Chasing the Dead, the second book in my Alex Stone Thriller Series, is fast approaching. Thrillers of all types, both legal and other suspense-filled adventures, have become increasingly popular lately. There’s always an impressive sampling of the genre on the New York Times bestseller lists for fiction. People love genre fiction for a variety of reasons. Genre fiction allows the reader to go anywhere and do anything; it allows an escape from everyday life; it gives birth to lots of sub-genres; and (my favorite) genre authors are most often great people.

I write crime thrillers, legal thrillers, and quite possibly one day, other types of thrillers. But today, in honor of my new and upcoming book, Chasing the Dead, I’ve decided to share some tips about writing legal thrillers.

  1. Take advantage of what you know. While you certainly don’t have to be an attorney to write great legal thrillers, it sure does help. I take full advantage of my former profession as a trial attorney and the experience I gained in that position when I write my legal thrillers. But perhaps you’re a legal secretary, or just have an interest in the law that approaches obsessive. You can still write a best selling legal thriller by drawing upon what you know and consulting with attorneys willing to offer their input and advice. Which brings me to tip number two.
  2. Know the law and know it well. So, what to do if you’re not an attorney and you want to write a legal thriller? Get studying or partner with someone (probably a lawyer) who can act as a sort of silent partner in your project and fill in the blanks and correct any errors. Believe me, even if you don’t have one reader who is an attorney, your readers will know when you get it wrong and they will call you out. Not fun. But, even if you are an attorney, consider allowing other lawyers look over the more technical parts of your story and get their input. Their advice may not work with what you’re trying to do, but then you’ll know you’ve got it right. Won’t you?
  3. Mistakes and stress. Stress and mistakes. When you watch any type of legal drama on television or read a legal thriller, the lawyers always seem to be under an immense amount of stress. The stress and anxiety surrounding an attorney character’s life may cause him to do and say things he wouldn’t otherwise do and say. This stress can cause your protagonist to focus even more fully on the conflict and defeat the obstacles because of it. But, no matter what, please don’t make your lawyer-hero infallible. He’s got to mess up at some point. Your lawyer’s mistakes can propel the plot in a fascinating way. We all make mistakes – even the most heroic among us. To be believable, your attorney protagonist has got to have some missteps (both big and small) as well.
  4. Fresh take on an old story. Lots of crime writers pull ideas from conflicts in real life – their own or from the headlines. Maybe you see a headline about a trial everyone knows about (think O.J. Simpson or Jodie Arias and others), but you put a twist on it in your story. I don’t mean actually write about Simpson or Arias. What I mean is that you can create a situation that uses elements from these and then add a twist – a sort of what if.
  5. Don’t get lost in the technical aspects of law. Ok, I just told you to know the law and to take advantage of what you know about it as well as seeking advice from friends in the legal profession. So why would I now say not to get lost in the technical details? The majority of your readers won’t be attorneys. And while they’ll certainly call you out if you get some legal aspect wrong, they’re reading to get a thrill ride. They read for the story and the voyeuristic escape your book gives them into the fascinating lives of your characters. They don’t want to nod off because you’ve gone on a tangent that describes, in excruciating detail, the nuances of the law in any given situation or sub-plot.
  6. Know the legalese in your setting. You don’t want to overdo it with the legal jargon, but you do want to get it right when it comes to the setting of your story. One aspect of law has one name in a certain county and another name in a different one. Know what terms are used in the setting where your court battles take place.
  7. Believe in your story. Imitation certainly is the most honest form of flattery. And all writers have others they look up to and aspire to emulate in one way or another. But don’t follow anyone else’s pattern or story template. Come up with your own – one that honors your personal creativity and talent as an author. Believe in yourself. Believe in your story.
legal thrillers chasing the dead

Sneak peek at the cover for Chasing the Dead.

For further reading check out, So You Want to Write a Legal Thriller? by Reece Hirsch.

What elements hook you most completely when reading a legal thriller? Share your favorites with me and tell me what plot elements and characters make you tick.

Oh, and don’t forget – grab a copy of Stone Cold, so you can get up to speed with Public Defender Alex Stone’s life before you read the next book in the series, Chasing the Dead.


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