Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thinking Like a Lawyer

When I was in my 20s, I told my mother I wanted to write romance novels.

"Oh, you can't do that," she told me.

"Why not?"

"You forget -- I've read your philosophy papers!"

I was indignant with her dismissal.  I knew I needed to write fiction differently from the way I wrote term papers.  (Plus, my philosophy papers were pretty crappy.  Which isn't necessarily a good defense of my ability to write fiction, thinking about it now.)

Obviously, you don't write a story the way you write a term paper, or a legal brief, or a blog post.  But here is one common characteristic to these tasks:  they all require heart.  Which is why my papers and briefs were all sadly flat and anemic.  I didn't know how to inject passion into them.

A year ago, I realized that.  The reality fish slapped me but good when I read Julia Spencer-Fleming's Millers Kill books.  (You can read a lot more about that experience here.)  Suddenly I felt as though I could express my passion in my writing.  So I started writing a romance novel.

Okay, I don't blog a lot about my writing because . . . well, because it's boring.  I tend just to let the ups and downs of writing slide by without mention.

But I had an epiphany recently, with a lot of help from two fellow writers.  I realized I needed to stop thinking like a lawyer when I write.  Which is ironic because my romances involve lawyers.

See, I like the law a lot.  I always enjoyed legal research.  I love talking with Brit Hub 1.0 about legal matters.  I watch Law & Order (all three flavors).  I tend to enjoy romances written by former lawyers.  (Tellingly, Julia Spencer-Fleming is a lawyer.)  And the practice of law is fascinating to me.

I just can't stand real life lawyers and judges.  There are exceptions of course, but my recent experiences have been profoundly depressing.  Which is why fiction is so much fun.

In my fictional legal community (based in Philadelphia, where I went to law school, had my clerkship, and did most of my legal work), lawyers are smart, ethical, interesting, and will make good romantic partners as well as law firm partners.  (I joke that this means I write paranormal romances, but I don't really think it would take a genetic mutation for real life lawyers to be nice people . . .)

Now all I have to do is stop thinking like a lawyer when I write about them.  See, lawyers are trained to include all relevant information.  Ah, but in fiction, reading "all relevant information" is a bit like eating one of everything in a dessert buffet; a little goes a long way and too much is really uncomfortable.

One of my writer friends read the first four chapters of my WIP.  Her critique was beautifully succinct: she liked my writing but she wasn't interested in the characters.

Hmm.  Maybe that's because I had been thinking like a lawyer when I introduced them.  So with help from my lovely critique partner, Sarah Tanner, I rewrote the beginning -- losing 3,000 words in the process.  Yup, an entire chapter's worth of unneeded calories!

This is such a great lesson, and I've just begun to learn it: When writing legal romances, I need to stop thinking like a lawyer and think like a novelist.


  1. It was obviously our weekend to shed text!

    I rewrote large chunks of my initial chapters to reflect the alterations I made to the plot. I've also had to change the name of my fictitious town, but more on that later.

    Deleting all those words was painful. Hopefully we'll have stronger stories because of it.

  2. I have trouble not thinking like a historian when I write! I grew so fed up with "wallpaper romances" that I threw myself headlong into research. However, in the process, I've stopped thinking like a romance writer (yikes!) and have remind myself of the language of the romance novel after years of cold, clinical history.

  3. We had a guest stop on by from an Essie Summers link who started reading all our past posts this week. When she got to your Fate is Remarkable re-telling she just loved, loved, loved it.

    And if my college Philosophy papers are any indicator of future success, I'm sunk!

  4. Hey...that's my Flickr photo of Philly!

    las - initially

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