Telling Truth in Fiction

CourtroomWhat does it mean to tell the truth in fiction?

I’ve been a fan of legal thrillers all my life. The idea of an innocent person, wrongly accused fighting for his or her freedom— and often for life— never fails to get my attention. I never get tired of reading about the efforts of the homicide detective to put together the bits and pieces of evidence that’s needed to solve the case and the courtroom battle pitting the lawyer for the accused against the ambitious prosecutor. These are the stories that motivated me to become a lawyer, and the reason why I have continued on this path as a judge.

After years of defending, prosecuting and taking verdicts, I decided to use my legal knowledge and experience to tell the kinds of riveting stories that captivated me as a reader of legal thrillers. But there was one precondition: The stories had to be conceivable.

One of the things that bothered me as a reader and legal expert was that there were so many novels with farfetched circumstances that could not happen in our system of justice. Obviously, works of fiction are made-up stories. But for me, telling the truth in the context of a made-up story means not proclaiming something that isn’t possible or probable. Readers are smarter than some authors give them credit for. I think we can all agree that people don’t outrun explosions nor can they jump from a fast-moving train without being seriously injured or dying (though that makes for a great action film!).

As a writer, I aimed to show what it was really like to go to an autopsy, visit a crime scene or interview a crime victim.

Juggling act

Writing a book that was accurate and entertaining became a huge juggling act. Though I was confident that both could coexist in a story, I needed some guidance on how to do it effectively. I took classes, joined a writing group, and read books on writing to sharpen my storytelling skills. After countless drafts, my initial goal of conceiving a plot that was accurate came to fruition. With help from other writers and teachers, who provided constructive criticism of my work throughout the one writing year process, Grant of Immunity transformed into the kind of book that I knew readers would not be able to put down.

Earlier this month, Grant of Immunity was officially released. So many readers have described it as a page-turner. Some have even finished it in one or two sittings. Others have said that the book took them on an engrossing ride through the justice system. Writing a blog is my attempt at continuing that journey. If you are reader with little legal knowledge, I want to help you better understand the system so that you can appreciate what you read. If you are a fellow author in crime fiction or simply a professional in the publishing industry, I want to help you evaluate and participate in telling accurate stories. Stories that tell the truth.

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