I had occasion to give a critique on a three-chapter submission the other day. As often happens, I use examples to highlight a particular point. Since the submission was for our Get It Write Series, I used examples from Donna Ballman’s fabulous book The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers – fondly known around here as Quill.
Many books of this ilk have an innate tendency to assume a role of teaching a general writing course, and that’s not the intent of a research book. You want a writing book, buy a writing book. If you want a research tool that will give you every single detail about U.S. civil law, you go no further than Quill because Donna concentrates on what she knows best – lawyer things. And she does it with her dry/ wry wit that keeps the reader engaged while laughing their heads off.
I mean, face it, lawyer stuff is as boring as a tax audit, but Donna makes it fun – and better yet – she makes it clear. When I approached Donna about writing this book, I didn’t know a tort from an apple pie, but she broke everything down so that even this law-challenged neophyte could understand admiralty law, which is actually a really cool foundation for a book. Talk about unique – but I digress.
Donna teases the author into thinking about the possibilities of how they can enhance their storyline. To achieve that, she continually ties in the relevancy of her information to writing. There is no way writers can Google their particular topic and get the same clear-headed analysis that caters to a writer’s mind.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Your characters can’t just bounce from court to court and show up for hearings without jumping through lots of hoops first. Lawyers must be admitted to the Bar in each state where they practice. They must graduate from an accredited law school and pass a background check. The qualifications vary from state to state. Most states have a Bar Exam covering the key areas of law and procedure in the state. Did your character flunk the Bar three times before they got in? Do they have to take a Bar Exam in another state after twenty years of practice?
Notice how she keeps the reader engaged by continually referring to their own writing and how they might apply her information to their character development or storyline. She’s expanding the writer’s creativity with the information she gives.
Donna gets very tactile – a godsend to us writers – by giving us a five-senses feel about her various topics. Her description of the courtroom was enough to pucker my sphincter – yah, I was instantly intimidated.
Another great thing Donna does is use excerpts from well-known books as examples of what to avoid, or what to emulate. The law is a confusing rat’s maze as far as I’m concerned, yet there are times when we need to sue, litigate, or process our characters to within an inch of their little fictional lives. Or maybe we really love lawyer-type books. Given this genre is really impacted, it’s vital to come up with something unique. So where do writers go for information or to ponder really good ideas? Well, to our new bestest friend, Donna Ballman, of course!
So come February, run – do not walk – to your local store, to Amazon, or our online store, and nab this book for your very own.
And happy writing!