Tags:
  1. Antaus

    Antaus Active Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2016
    Messages:
    151
    Likes Received:
    77
    Location:
    North Carolina

    Dealing with a Trial

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Antaus, Apr 3, 2019.

    I've run into something I'm stumped by, because I've never done this in a story before. One of the characters I'm writing about is put on trial, accused of a list of crimes. I know enough about trials to at least make things passable, yet I'm at something of an impasse. I'm not sure if I should detail the trial bit by bit, or give a general description of what happens. There also length to consider too. I don't want it to comprise multiple chapters. Really it's more of a catalyst for later events in the story.
     
  2. DPena

    DPena Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2019
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    23
    I know nothing about the trial process aside from "television court" so personally I would flash forward to the outcome and just give vague details of the actual trial. But that's just me being lazy ;)

    Maybe give the details through the story in the local paper, like how some movies/tv shows do the "headline montage."

    Or maybe have the locals talking about it in the barber shop/coffee shop/feed store:

    "You hear about that Johnson trial?"
    "Yeah, the guy jumped up on the Judge's bench and started clucking like a chicken."
    "Was that before or after the Judge was caught with a prostitute during recess?"
     
  3. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2019
    Messages:
    955
    Likes Received:
    953
    Real trials, at least in the US, are boring. Judges do not like being surprised, they like an nice orderly courtroom where things go by the rules.

    Lawyers at trials don't like surprises either. Contrary to what you see on TV and movies, the general rule when questioning someone at trial is "never ask a question unless you know what the witness's answer will be." And if you surprise opposing counsel with something, expect them to object -- and have the objection sustained. Ambushing opposing counsel isn't fair, so it isn't tolerated.

    Is this character one of the protagonists? A POV character? If not, consider presenting the trial from the POV of an important character who isn't even at it, but just learns things as it progresses. That character's reaction to news from the trial, and to the outcome of the trial, might be a very effective way of presenting those parts of the trial that matter to the story.

    Imagine someone who's spouse is on trial, but who cannot attend the trial. Worse, imagine they have doubts about whether their spouse is guilty. Their perspective on events might be very engaging, while still allowing you to communicate everything about the trial the reader needs to know -- with whatever degree of reliability you want.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,345
    Likes Received:
    13,069
    If the trial is mainly a catalyst, it might be best to start at its end. That's where Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison starts--at the judge's summing-up for a trial that's otherwise complete. (The summing-up also gives an excuse for a chapter-long infodump, something I probably wouldn't recommend unless you have Dorothy Sayer's writing talent and are writing in Dorothy Sayer's time.)

    Peter Robinson's Before the Poison is an intersecting past-and-present story, where the past, with the events that led up to the trial, and the trial, and the aftermath, are woven in with events many decades later.

    I'm trying to think of other examples, and realizing that even though I read a whole lot of murder mysteries, not that many of them have actual trials. That suggests a consensus that they're pretty boring. :)
     
  5. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2019
    Messages:
    617
    Likes Received:
    359
    A good way of summarizing a trial is to depict just the most damning moment or testimony that causes the verdict.
     
    Thundair likes this.
  6. Antaus

    Antaus Active Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2016
    Messages:
    151
    Likes Received:
    77
    Location:
    North Carolina
    The person on trail is the MC of the story. He does get convicted and sentenced, but manages to escape on the way to prison. The person who sentenced him (princess rather than judge due to story setting), ends up becoming a bitter rival, and someone he eventually fights against. This event is the main thing that turns him against this particular kingdom, as he's part of another. Although the trial process is largely similar to ours, as an fyi.
     
  7. Solar

    Solar Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2011
    Messages:
    977
    Likes Received:
    744
    This is pretty much how trials are conducted in UK:

     
  8. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2017
    Messages:
    5,933
    Likes Received:
    10,703
    Location:
    The great white north.
    I'd at least put in enough to explain why they go to court in front of a princess rather than some lower court. I imagine if every court case ended up in front of royalty, the legal system would get backlogged fairly quickly. Also, make sure the reader knows the motivation for this princess to take enough interest in the MC for them to become rivals, as most judges and the type don't know much about the people their judging in order to make sure there's no conflict of interests. But other than that, I treat legal systems like magic systems in that you can have a hard legal system or a soft legal system. If the legal parts are just a catalyst and aren't going to be touched on later in the story, then I'd go with a soft system, where things aren't really explained, but if the legal system is going to play a major role in the story where it saves the character on a few occasions, then I'd go into more detail. Just keep in mind, the last thing you probably want is a bunch of boring exposition explaining rules, etc., at the start of a story that never come into effect again later on.
     
  9. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2018
    Messages:
    1,016
    Likes Received:
    679
    Location:
    Ohio
    If this is the beginning of the story come in at the last possible moment. Like the first 3 sentences being the judge slamming down the gavel and saying "I sentence you to life..." or something and then the escape.

    If this is the middle or end then it depends on how you built the suspense. Do we as a reader want to sit through a trial with him or just skip ahead to how it ends?
     
  10. Antaus

    Antaus Active Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2016
    Messages:
    151
    Likes Received:
    77
    Location:
    North Carolina
    The trial is not at the very beginning, but it is early on in the story and something that is foreseen by the reader. Mainly through him being arrested and put in jail to await trail. He's also being brought before royalty (they do have jury trials), due to the severity of what he's charged with. The MC ends up being sentenced to life without parole, despite his actions being taken under duress, because he can't prove he was forced to do what he did. Because of this he views it as the princess effectively taking his life away. Later events only make things worse, and the two become enemies. Not that the two kingdoms involved were on the greatest terms to begin with.
     
  11. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2018
    Messages:
    1,016
    Likes Received:
    679
    Location:
    Ohio
    Then the reader already knows what happened and if he is guilty or not. If the story is not about whether or not he will beat the charges I wouldn't go into too much details. Most court room dramas are about the trial and the MC is usually the defense attorney and how he is going to save an innocent victim of the justice system. Only get into what moves the story forward.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    13,182
    Likes Received:
    7,741
    Location:
    California, US
    So...this isn't set in the real world, but in a fictional setting. You can make the trial as exciting as you want, regardless of how real world trials operate. You could always dramatize it and see how it turns out. If you don't like the end result, try again or go with more of a summary approach. On the other hand, if you end up with something captivating, keep it.
     
  13. frigocc

    frigocc Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2019
    Messages:
    767
    Likes Received:
    519
    You should have a nonsensical trial. Play off of the old Brian Regan "no-nonsense judge (as opposed to what?)" joke.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice