What to Know About Writing Trials

When writing crime dramas, or about laws and the court system in general, having a court trial can be a great way to build dramatic tension. In order to make the most of these scenes, though, it is important to know how trials work from the pretrial stage all the way through to what happens after the last fall of the judge’s gavel.

Before the Trial

There are two major stages before a case actually goes to trial. First is the pleading stage, in which the complaint is brought to a judge to be decided if the case is fit to go to trial. There are essentially four parts to this process, which are the:

• Filing Complaint. The plaintiff or offended party will file a complaint with the courts, stating the wrong that has been committed against them for review.

• Summons. The summons is a notification sent to the defendant notifying them of the plaintiff’s complaint against them. The defense generally has about 30 days to respond, or there may be a default judgment against them.

• Motion to Dismiss. This is where the defense responds to the plaintiff’s complaint and files a motion to dismiss the claim.

• Motion for Judgement. This is where both parties either settle the claim out of court, push for a judgment based on the evidence presented or the court decides to move the case towards trial.

These steps are more often seen in civil suits rather than criminal cases. From here, the trial moves towards the pretrial stage, which is more consistent between criminal and civil court trials. The pretrial stage consists mostly of investigation and discovery. This is when the plaintiff and defense teams perform their separate investigations in conjunction with law enforcement to gather their evidence. There may be motions made with the court to suppress certain key pieces of evidence, such as an identified party in a lineup, the defendant’s statements to the police, or items found through a search warrant. Pretrial discovery can be somewhat limited when it comes to criminal cases, and in some jurisdictions, the prosecution may allow the defense to review their file through a process called open file discovery. Many criminal trials are resolved long before the case ever reaches a jury. Plea bargains are, essentially, a reduction in a potential ruling or sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea. Depending on how strong a case the prosecution might have, a defendant’s lawyer may strongly recommend that his or her client take the plea deal.

The Court Case

The trial is the most well-known portion of a criminal hearing, as well as usually the most publicized. A trial consists of seven stages, which include the:

• Jury selection

• Opening statements

• Prosecution’s case

• Defense’s case

• Closing arguments

• Jury instructions

• Verdict

Throughout these seven steps, it’s important to note that the defense is not required to call any witnesses or conduct any cross-examinations. It’s entirely up to the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

After the Verdict

After a plea or a guilty verdict, the judge will proceed to sentence the guilty party. The judge determines the sentencing based on the minimum and maximum guidelines outlined by set statutes and can only be guided or influenced by the prosecution at this point. For felony charges, sentencing can include upwards of one year in prison while misdemeanors have a maximum of a year jail time. There are non-prison sentencing options as well, such as fines and probationary periods. After the sentencing, the guilty party has the option to appeal his or her ruling thought the federal appeals process. The appealing party presents his or her case in writing, including evidence, documentation and his or her arguments for the appeal. This appeal is generally reviewed by three judges who come to a final decision on the matter. If you want a federal case appealed, find out how long they take, why they’re granted and the probability of it succeeding.

Court trials may seem complex at first, but once you understand the basic structure and order in which they work, it becomes much easier to understand the process and be able to include a court trial in your writing. While you don’t have to include each and every step leading up to the trial, add what is necessary to add crucial details and information.

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How Can I Make My Cast of Characters More Diverse?

Think of all of the books you’ve read recently. Of those books, how many of them had white male protagonists? Probably most of them, right? Of those remaining, how many of them had white female protagonists? Is that your whole library? The world’s a big place, but unfortunately, media can be pretty myopic. Thankfully, as writers, we can change that. Here are some ways to make your cast of characters more diverse.

Female Perspective

Male protagonists are more common than female protagonists. That’s true for movies, where men take55% of all speaking parts. It’s also true for books, especially children’s books. Boys grow up seeing themselves as the heroes of the media they consume, while girls are relegated to minor roles at best. Writing layered and nuanced female characters will make your writing better, more interesting and more memorable.

GNC Representation

Of course, including female perspectives is just the beginning. While female protagonists are a minority, gender nonconforming (GNC) protagonists are almost unheard of. Thankfully, content creators like J.Y. Yang and Rebecca Sugar are leading the charge against cisnormativity in media, but all things still aren’t equal. We can do better as writers by including trans, nonbinary, and intersex characters in our work.

Racially Diverse

Truly diverse media should be racially diverse as well. People of color rarely see themselves portrayed as complex, three-dimensional beings in media. Racial diversity is about more than just including characters of color. Accuracy and empathy are also important. If you are writing an African-American character then it’s recommended that you study black culture to get a better understanding of that character’s perspective.

Sensitivity

In an ideal world, content creators from all walks of life would be represented equally. We do not live in an ideal world. Chances are, as a writer, you have some kind of privilege. Everybody does. That’s why sensitivity readers exist. As privileged people, it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of those without privilege and not to smother them. If you are writing about an underprivileged group that you don’t belong to, it’s critical that you listen to people from that group. Hire sensitivity readers. Don’t get defensive when they criticize your work. They know their world better than you do.

When people talk about diversity in media, they talk about it like it’s a trend. Like pogs or bell-bottom jeans, diversity will be out someday. That’s not true, though. Diversity is all around us. It always has been and it always will be. Whether or not we portray that diversity is up to us.

Here’s another article you might enjoy: How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character

Writing Mental Illness: Balancing Reality and Drama

People are amazingly diverse and have different life experiences. People struggle with many different things—deaths in their family, unemployment, and more. Mental illness is one of those things that is prevalent in society. As a writer, you may want to add a character to your plot who has a mental illness. However, mental illness can be a tricky and sensitive subject to include, so it’s important to write it correctly.

Is Mental Illness Necessary for a Good Cast?

Mental illnesses are relatively common. As you determine whether to add a character with mental illness to your story, this fact should be an element to consider. In any given year, about 1 in 25 Americans will experience some form of mental illness. Some people have serious illnesses like schizophrenia that will never resolve, although improvement can come through medication. Other people experience mental illness as it ebbs and flows through their lives. When you plan your plot, you may add a character with mental illness as a plot point, add interest in the condition, or use the character as a contrast to your non-mentally ill characters.

How Does Mental Illness Affect Your Character(s)?

Mental illnesses fall across a broad range of symptoms. Your mentally ill character may manifest some or all of the typical symptoms, and those symptoms may change through time. Their coping skills may change as well. Many people with a mental illness will recognize the issue and seek help. However, some illnesses make it difficult for a person to recognize the issue. Conveying those differences through character development should take those differences into account. For instance, those with anxiety disorders may seek relief by grounding anxiety with various techniques. Big, deep breathes can show a character dealing with an anxiety attack, keying the reader into what’s going on while the character grounds themselves. Disorganized speech may indicate a more difficult illness like schizophrenia.

Understand the symptoms of the disorder as well as overlapping symptoms. Many mental illnesses can present in similar ways. However, each illness has unique features that set it apart. You can use those unique features to develop your character.

Get an Insider’s Perspective

Since the array of symptoms and perceptions may vary to a great extent, you should consider talking with others about the experience. Consult with mental health professionals and individuals who have firsthand experience with the illness you have selected for your character. This can give you authentic details about how it feels to the sufferer and their friends and family. You can visit online forums, but always be respectful, discreet and appropriately cautious. Use a variety of sources for your research, and take a little extra time. Thecredibility of the characters will depend on how well you understand the issues from their point of view. Profound knowledge tends to promote compassion and respect, which are traits that can play well in your story. The more insight you can impart through your story, the more believable the characters will be. This leads to authenticity.

A character in your story who has a mental illness can add interest and a thread of real-life issues that many readers face in their own lives. How you develop the character will help determine if the issues ring true.

Looking for more character-developing ideas? Take a look at this other article: How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character

How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character

You’re writing away and you realize that one of your major characters is a car nut and you don’t know your wheel well from a wishing well. How can you make your story work? Check out these tips for how to more convincingly write a character who knows a lot about cars.

They’ve Always Got a Project

You can tell the car fanatics by the car sitting in their garage in some degree of disrepair. Maybe the vehicle is jacked up so that the character can roll under it, seemingly not nervous at all about oil or other car fluids dripping down on them. Give them a minute and they will fill you in on their latest improvement on their car. They also spend a lot of time detailing their main car and might even enjoy building their dream rides in miniature versions.

They See the World Differently

To a car person, a sports car isn’t just a sports car and a truck isn’t just a truck—they’re likely to know about these things, so they will be specific. Did you know that there are actually six different categories of trucks? What about the major sports car makers? You need to research these things in order to write a car character realistically. He or she might also use car-related lingo regularly in their speech. For example, instead of saying that they are tired of waiting, car enthusiasts might say something like, “Put it in gear, and let’s go!” instead. 

They Have a Deep Understanding of Car Mechanics

Let’s face it—a car-savvy person isn’t really a car-savvy person unless he or she has a deep understanding of how cars work. You could illustrate a character’s knowledge by having them mention different parts of cars and offer expertise to other characters on how to fix their cars. Think about the parts of cars that an average person wouldn’t know a ton about. Have the car-savvy character be the voice of knowledge when it comes to figuring out what a car does. These things will set your character apart as someone who is especially car-savvy compared to the other characters. 

If you don’t know much about cars yourself, you’ll need to make sure you do adequate research so you can make your character more realistic. If you really want to understand a car-savvy character, you might consider learning how to fix a car or taking a class on auto mechanics. Every little bit you learn will take you that much closer to creating a realistic character who’s a car enthusiast.

For more help with your characters, contact me to review your story and I’ll give you some tips!

The Writer’s Guide to Avoiding Carpal Tunnel

For writers, carpal tunnel can, unfortunately, be a common reality. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of the median nerve as it passes through the front of the wrist. Over time, this compression can lead to constant numbness, burning or pain. Weak hand muscles can contribute to the condition, as can arthritis. If you’re a writer, here are some tips to help you make sure that you don’t fall victim to this inconvenient condition.

Carpal Tunnel: A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Writers can spend hours at their keyboards, and many may find that they don’t do a good job of monitoring their posture, wrist position, or any pain they may be experiencing. CTS worsens with time, and without treatment, you can find yourself unable to perform the basic duties of your occupation as a writer. As soon as you notice pain or fatigue, break away from the keyboard for some simple stretches to reduce pressure on the median nerve.

Stretch Your Wrists and Arms Frequently

There are simple stretches you can do at your desk to lessen the risk of CTS. Performing a gentle wrist bend for five seconds, both up and down until you feel the stretch in your forearm, is a great way to give your wrist rest and provide a break for your brain.

Another easy exercise you can do from a seated position is to press your hands together in prayer position directly in front of your sternum. Lower your pressed palms until you feel the stretch in your wrist, and hold this for five seconds. You can also stand and press your palms flat on the table in front of you. Gently lean forward with your arms straight so that your shoulders extend to the ends of your fingertips or until you feel a stretch in your wrists.

Increase Your Hand Strength

People with weak hands are more prone to developing CTS. Simply stretching your fingers and then grasping them tight into a hard fist is a great way to strengthen your hands. Do this for one minute, then shake your hands out for another minute.

If you walk on the track for any part of your workout, try to carry a hand weight with you for a lap or two, then set it down and shake out your hands for a lap. As you do these exercises, make sure to take a stretch break to both ease tension in the wrist and loosen up the newly worked hand muscles.

Use a Timer

Writers like to get in the zone or lose themselves in the document they’re working on. Unfortunately, this can lead to several hours in a chair before you realize that you really should move your body and stretch your hands and wrists. Many cell phones have a clock feature that includes a timer. Set this timer to go off in an hour and put it across the room so that you have to get up and turn it off. If you’ve got wrist problems, taking a break is critical.

CTS impacts more than just your writing time. You may find that your hand hurts or goes numb. It may feel cold no matter how warm the rest of your body feels. Over time, you may lose gripping strength or start to have problems with dexterity. Take care of your wrists on a daily basis to reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Are you in need of someone to look over your story and tell you if it’s any good? Let me help!

Answer These Questions to Make Your Characters More Well-Rounded

Storytelling is an integral part of the human experience. Authors have created new stories since the dawn of civilization. A story can serve many purposes: to entertain, to educate or to build a common sense of community through shared cultural meaning. Whatever the purpose, writing believable characters is crucial to the composition of an engaging, compelling piece.

Being a social species, we naturally want to relate to one another. We often assess our own positions in life based on our perception of others in our community. In light of this, you can understand why creating believable, interesting characters can propel a manuscript to succeed.

What Do They Eat for Lunch?

Often, readers remember the smaller details about a character that an inexperienced writer may forget to include. When we meet a new person, for example, we may take in a number of tiny bits of information that don’t even register formally in our brains. We then synthesize all that information to help us make a holistic impression of the person in our minds. What someone eats for lunch can tell us a lot about them. Are they health-conscious? Do they have a set of beliefs that are strongly held such as ordering a vegan or halal meal? Based upon the foods they enjoy, can we discern clues about where they come from? Are they poor or rich? 

How Do They Get Around?

Your character’s primary mode of transport can say a lot about them as a person. Did they arrive on a motorcycle, in an Uber or driven in a limo? The details matter too, like what kind of car they drive or whether they wear a bike helmet. Characters who don’t wear a bike helmet are likely to be risk takers with a distaste for rules. If they drive a vehicle, what does it say about them? Do they have a preference for form over function or the other way around?

The condition of the character’s mode of transport is also expository. Do they maintain their bicycle or car? Do they take pride in its appearance? For a variety of reasons, some people value material possessions more than others and take better care of them.

What Motivates Them?

Most human behavior is explainable by understanding the reasons why an action was taken. For example, Iago’s endless scheming in Shakespeare’s famous play seems extreme and unnecessary until you understand his true underlying motivations. Motivation is so important that establishing cause is crucial to many court cases. Without the proper stimulus, people will not perform certain actions.

How Did Their Past Affect Them?

No one lives in a vacuum. As we travel through time, we change. Who we are at this moment is directly tied to the events of our past. Often, a glimpse into a person’s background can illuminate a great deal about certain aspects of their character. But it’s not just the events of their past — it’s also how they immediately reacted to those events, and what support they had to get through it, if any.

As you write your piece, consider questions facing your character as if he or she is the dynamic, complicated being that a real-life person is. When you do this, readers will naturally relate to the character who becomes more vivid in their minds.

Need an extra pair of eyes on your story to help determine what works and what doesn’t? Pick me!

Elements of an Exciting Car Chase You Need for Your Book

What an exciting book! Surprised young woman reading a book while sitting at the library

Many of us read books, not knowing that the person who wrote the story often took a long period of time crafting even a single page. This is especially true when it comes to action scenes. Being able to convey the excitement of an action scene while still being able to tell the story can be harder than people think. This is most noticeable when an author chooses to insert a car chase into their book. The following list entails some of the things to keep in mind when writing such a scene. 

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3 Considerations for Sci-Fi Worldbuilding

In science fiction, the world that the story inhabits plays such an important role in the story that the imagined world becomes another character in the tale. How the characters live their lives is very much determined by how they interact with their make-believe world. While there are many elements that go into creating a world for a sci-fi story, here are three of the most important ones.

Figure Out the Basic Infrastructure

The infrastructure of the sci-fi world determines just about everything in the story. Elements, like currency, food supply chains, social classes, etc., provide critical elements against which the characters play and sometimes fight against. They’ll also change, depending on what kind of sci-fi you write. The infrastructure will be different in a steampunk novel than it will be in a space opera. In many cases, the way the characters interact with one another and each other is also determined by the infrastructure. Star Trek is a good example of this. While an away team does have the option to take a small craft down to a strange planet, most of the time, Picard and crew get beamed down via the transporter. Crew members order tea from the ship’s computer. They don’t really exchange money. You get the idea. The basic infrastructure determines how they move about their world.

Choose Your Tech

Star Trek offers a good segue into the technical aspects of science fiction. Like the infrastructure, the tech that the characters interact with plays a big role in how the story plays out. The story’s technology tells the reader what kinds of resources are available to the characters. For example, Trek-level technology creates different parameters for the characters than steampunk-level technology would. Perfect technology is fun to think about, but overdone. How about something a little closer to home, like self-driving cars that can still malfunction and cause crashes? How would the characters deal with that? What reverberations would this malfunctioning tech have on the trajectory of the story? Whatever tech you decide on, make sure that the characters interact with it directly. It shouldn’t just be a set-piece.

What Date Is It?

This element ties in with the two previous ones. Clearly, the date for a steampunk novel would be different than a Trek novel, and the effect would be different. For example, since steampunk exists largely in the 19th century, it has elements of science fiction, but it also has historical elements and even alternate timelines. With this genre, some of the world is already in place; you know what happened during the Victorian era because it’s part of history. Clearly, this historical parameter affects how the tech will work and does so in a vastly different way than it would if you set the story 400 years in the future. The date also affects what the characters will be familiar with and what they won’t. For example, unless it’s a story like The Time Machine, Victorian-era characters wouldn’t know about President Kennedy. However, the characters in a Trek story might.

Worldbuilding in science fiction takes plenty of thought and planning. Whatever parameters that the author sets for the characters in terms of infrastructure, technology and time periods have an effect on the story’s outcome. When creating these worlds, it’s best to think of the story’s characters interacting with another full-blown character because that’s really what this new world is: another character.
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Technology Considerations for Your Futuristic Sci-Fi Novel

Science fiction is a genre rich with potential. Any good author can pull a compelling story out of it so long as they have a wealth of ideas. At least one or two of these ideas should relate to the story’s technology, as futuristic tech is often one of the biggest differences between the story’s setting and our present. If you’re looking for some ideas on how you can outfit your story with the latest in speculative science, here are six technology considerations for your futuristic sci-fi novel.

Home Technology

Given that our homes are loaded with all sorts of technology (you’re reading this on some right now), it’s natural that your characters will have their own everyday tech needs to fulfill. Figuring out what kinds of devices the average person in your setting uses and what your major characters have access to is a great way to build your world and flesh out both the setting and characters. It’s also handy for establishing a baseline of technology for the universe, making it easy to tell what is more or less advanced than the average person might have on hand by comparison.

What would a future TV look like, for example? A gaming system? A phone? Things like holograms and augmented reality are already somewhat viable in the present, so imagine what they’d be like down the road. Bulky electronics of any kind might be a thing of the past when you can project images on any surface or simply see them inside the lenses of a pair of glasses.

Transportation Technology

Transportation is important for any story that’s not set in a single room. Science fiction stories, however, allow an author to really dig deep and come up with some creative solutions to get their characters from point A to point B. Everyone’s familiar with flying cars and starships, meaning that standing out is all a matter of how you can put your own spin on things.

One of your first considerations should be whether or not your setting involves things like space travel or travel between universes as this greatly changes the type of vehicle most characters may have. If people can routinely go to space and visit other planets, the idea of single person spacecrafts may be a popular all-purpose mode of transportation, maneuvering near the ground or out in space with equal ease. It’s also worth considering how easy something like this would be to control, opening up the possibility that these futuristic modes of transport might only be viable for those with great skill as pilots.

Health Technology

There’s a whole new dimension to consider in your writing when it comes to health technology. What will the hospitals of the future look like? How is healthcare managed? Does insurance still exist? Answering simple questions like these provide a new depth of worldbuilding that helps your setting feel real and lived in.

It’s also worth considering what kind of health technology characters may have on their person at any given time. The world of today has wearable health monitoring devices like Fitbits and medical alert systems, meaning it’s not unreasonable to think there might be some version of this in the future. For instance, modern medical alert systems enable the user to just press a button for rapid response help, so maybe a medical alert system of the future could automatically send for help if vitals reach a certain threshold, use faster AI-based “paramedics”, or even administer basic first aid.

Weapons Technology

War may never change but the way it’s waged certainly does. While the atomic bomb is essentially the pinnacle of warfare in our modern era, will that be true 100 years from now? If conflict is a part of your story, thinking about the kinds of weapons technology at the disposal of your characters opens up a whole new world of creative battles and confrontation.

Both on a large and small scale, the type of weaponry characters can use should be accounted for. AI drones could have replaced ground soldiers entirely, for example. Laser-based weapons could be a fun way to dress up any type of standard weapon from a knife to a gun, especially if you consider how older technology would interact. If your setting has robots of any level of sentience, consider how they might be used in combat or how they might react to violence done against them, too.

Recreation Technology

The future isn’t all fun and games but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any to be found. One often overlooked part of building a compelling and realistic fictional world is the type of recreation people have when they’re not working in the corporations or fighting for freedom. Thinking about the type of technology people use for play will quickly make your work more interesting and gives you a chance to showcase characters in a more mellow setting.

VR is the hot new thing in gaming, so maybe in the future its influence has spread considerably. There could be entire worlds of VR for characters to explore with their own rules to figure out. Do paper books still exist or have they all been replaced by digital? What about things like card games, bicycles, and sports? More importantly, how have these types of analog games changed and adapted with the advent of technology?

Surveillance Technology

In many sci-fi stories, especially those of the cyberpunk or dystopia variety, surveillance is a major issue for characters. A lack of privacy from an industrialized future under the thumb of corporate overlords is a rich setting you can do a lot with that also lets you draw parallels to our present society. Even if you don’t choose to go this route, taking into account what type of privacy concerns your characters should have is still a good worldbuilding detail.

For a spy story, maybe characters have access to miniaturized cameras that can move around on their own styled after literal bugs. Our own technology is being made smaller and smaller, so it’s not unlikely a camera or microphone could be slipped into just about anything. What if clothing comes equipped with biometric or tracking features that keep tabs on citizens wherever they are, too?

Building a world is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of creating any story. Try out these six technology considerations when crafting your sci-fi novel to be sure your setting is richer and more realistic than the rest.
Need an extra set of eyes to take a look at your story and your world? Submit your book for a review

How to Write About Injured Characters

Writing about injured characters is challenging for writers of any genre. However, in fantasy or science fiction writing, there are considerations related to the characters’ injuries that should always be kept in mind. Even though this type of fiction requires readers to believe the unbelievable, you still want to strive for a touch of authenticity.

Injure Them Realistically

Injuries that characters sustain should be consistent with what injured them. For example, a description of an injury suffered during a sword fight should not be similar to a gunshot wound. An injury that happens because of a fall should be consistent with the height, such as not having catastrophic fractures occur because of a short fall.

Another important thing to be considered should be what type of protective gear, like armor or a spacesuit, the character was wearing. Keep in mind that protective gear is not perfect (unless it’s magical and supposed to be that way), and characters can still get injured through it. For example, people can still get head injuries even while wearing a helmet.

In fantasy, a character fighting a dragon might receive burns even with protective gear. Science fiction characters who are nonhuman might withstand injuries that would injure humans pretty seriously. The story’s setting always matters.

Use the Right Symptoms

Paying attention to symptoms and appropriate reactions associated with the injury type is important to writing convincingly. Accurate medical sources regarding different injuries can help you present an injury accurately, even in a setting for removed from “real life.”

For example, describing pain bearing weight on an injured leg would be accurate, as well as symptoms similar to gas poisoning resulting from an encounter with toxic potions. Always remember that even the most unbelievable fantasy or science fiction storyline has some inspiration from real life.

Don’t Ignore Pain

Many writers find pain difficult to write about, at the risk of downplaying their characters’ pain. However, unless some plot device in the storyline allows for supernatural pain resistance or magical healing, you will most likely have scenes that involve characters being in pain.

Another consideration in writing about pain is keeping it proportionate to the injury. A person who receives burns from dragon will have more pain than someone who trips mounting a horse. Try to put yourself in your characters’ shoes as much as you can.

Writing about injured characters is a unique challenge for writers. When you are writing about them, you want to make sure that it seems realistic so you don’t alienate the reader. However, by following the above tips, writing about injured characters will become easier over time.
Want more writing tips? Check out this other article on how to write empathetic characters without boring your audience!