1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    How can I make a courtroom thriller exciting, but without surprises in this sense?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ryan Elder, May 26, 2016.

    I was doing a lot of research for writing my story, and about maybe an eighth of it, is a court case.

    I was thinking of having the story take place in a preliminary hearing to see if there is enough evidence to go to trial. However, because all the witnesses would have been interviewed in a deposition prior to the hearing, and all the evidence would have already been examined, there is no element of surprise therefore.

    The prosecution cannot have any surprises for the defense, and vice versa, because they already know what everyone is going to say, and they already know what all the evidence exhibits are.

    So because of this, I feel that there is no element of surprise, not for the characters, and therefore, not for the reader much either.

    What do you think, or how should I approach this? Thanks for the advice and opinions. I really appreciate it.
     
  2. A lake.
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    A lake. Member

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    Have someone lie?
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Depos aside, witnesses do say surprising things at trial. There is even a rule of evidence that allows you to impeach them with their prior statements when they do.
     
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  4. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Yep for sure. In this case though, the witnesses do not have any motives to change their statements though. I want the truth to be a surprise, if that's possible.
     
  5. Joe Portes
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    Joe Portes New Member

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    Well, the court case is the A-story, correct? Perhaps you let your B-story do the heavy lifting in this scene. A prelim hearing on its own could be sort of boring I suppose, but what is going on in the characters' lives outside the courtroom? But don't spell it all out for the audience. Remember: subtext is essential. Have you ever read Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants?" That is a short story consisting of one scene that takes place at a train station. Two un-named characters drink together while waiting for a train. That is it. On the surface. They never say it, but -- spoiler alert -- that story is really about deciding whether to have an abortion or not. The writing is strong and tight, and you can feel the tension between the characters but it is not prevelant in the room. So, in this case, the B-story is actually what we're presented with while the A-story is what's below the surface.... the pregnancy is what's important.

    Now I'm not saying you have to use this model, but having more than one storyline (and it doesn't have to be huge) can be very beneficial. Show somebody really sweating it out during the depo because they're nervous or perhaps it's their first case or perhaps their marriage is falling apart because they work too much -- these are all things that are minor plot-wise, but major in terms of character development. Utilize these elements when trying to build tension and suspense during an otherwise potentially boring scene.
     
  6. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Well I think the B story is good where it's at and I have more trouble with the A story more so. Perhaps I should change it from a preliminary hearing to a deposition, to allow for the lawyers to still be surprised by what witnesses say.

    In a deposition both lawyers meet in a small office room and just bring in the witnesses, one at time, and ask them questions, instead of a courtroom.

    However, I feel this would lack suspense. The defendant isn't even there to face his accusers. Even though his lawyer would logically do the talking, him not even being there I think would take away a lot of the intrigue of how the reader perceives the situation, if he is not there to emotionally react to it all, even if it's mostly internal.

    There are also people in the back of the courtroom who have personal involvement in the case, such as loved ones, of the victims, who would have reactions while watching the case, who would also not be there in the room as all of this investigating and cross examining of the case goes on.

    So I was wondering, is there any ways I can make the deposition equally suspenseful, even though the defendant and the victim's loved ones, will not be able to there to react to everything, realistically?

    I also feel that not having a judge there to decide on what is relevant, admissible and fair, and what not, also can remove some of the intrigue.

    The deposition allows for the prosecutor and defense attorney to be surprised and not know what witnesses will say, and not know what evidence will bring till they go over it. The surprises are more important for the story to go, where I want it go, but it would be nice to have all that little drama as well, if that's still possible.

    I haven't read that Hemingway story. I think that the B story can still be good, but I cannot get all the key characters to face each other in the same room, since it's a deposition, and I feel that I need to somehow make it interesting, without them being the in same room. I mean having a lawyer relay the information to the defendant is just not near as exciting, as the defendant witnessing it all in front of his eyes, first hand.

    I feel that if I rely on the B story to bring out all the drama, then the characters are forced to receive the drama from their enemies, second hand, and the story becomes longer with more scenes to do it as a result, if that can still work.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  7. Joe Portes
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    Joe Portes New Member

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    Well, this is maybe a stupid question but I don't have your story in front of me nor have I read it... do you need the deposition to be a scene? Can you leave it out completely or use a bit of exposition to tell us what happens? It almost sounds to me like the intrigue and surprise would come at the case so you don't want to ruin it with the deposition. I don't know much about how court cases work as you can tell. It is all really situational and I'd have to read the actual scene to get a good sense of what's going on. I completely get what you're saying though because the most popular writing advice (for good reason) is "show, don't tell" and it sounds like a deposition/prelim would be mostly telling, witnesses telling the lawyers - and in turn the readers - what they saw happen. So the problem becomes how do you show more, how do you add drama, and make it exciting. Well, the two things I could suggest are 1) consider whether you absolutely need the scene 2) make the writing interesting and compelling enough to carry the scene. Good writing can carry everything.
     
  8. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well I have a plot hole. The surprise would come at the deposition and so it would therefore not be a surprise in the case. In fact, the case would not go to trial if the surprise would be revealed at the deposition, cause the surprise, ruins the case, and it is dismissed.

    So there is no reason logically for the characters to hold the surprise for trial. So I would need the scene, cause if logic dictates that the surprise would be revealed at the deposition, then there would be no trial and the case would be ruined right there, in the deposition.

    So it seems that it's not a plot hole, unless I go to trial, cause there is no reason for the lawyers not to know what the witnesses are going to say, and there is no motives for the witnesses to change their statements.
     

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