As writers and/or lawyers, what practical pointers can make us better at our craft? After all, we are artists telling a story. What can make those stories better? Read on…
1. Put in the necessary hours.
To be a competent lawyer, it has been said that one must practice over 10,000. The same is true of writers. Three novels minimum to learn pacing, story, plot, narrative voice, foreshadowing. etc. Only then do you develop core competence. Now some of us like Steven King or Dean Koontz are natural innate story tellers. Bot most of us aren’t that lucky. So put the time in.
2. Be a professional and be disciplined.
Steve and I have been lucky to have cases referred to us by opposing counsel after a case is over. Why? Because you never get personal and unprofessional. Being a zealous advocate does not mean you get to a jerk to the opposing attorney or their client. You will sleep better at night if you adopt this one item and live by it.
3. Start with a good hook.
Talking to prospective jurors during a mini-opening statement, what can you say that will help the jurors identify with your client? A good jury is not a pissed off jury. They want satisfaction, just as a reader of fiction or non-fiction does. Your don’t want their pity. You want to empower them to feel that the case and your client are important. You want to appeal to their sense of justice.
4. Pacing is everything. Tone and tempo mean a lot too.
Think about how you are going to tell your story. Start with the injured employee on the witness stand first? Maybe the jury will feel manipulated if your do. A better approach might be to start with the employer’s testimony first. Lock them into their story. Then put the terminated employee on the stand. Use that testimony and e-mails or whatever to show how/why the employer’s story could not be true. Far more effective because you are creating a sense of conflict and tension.
5. Patience is a virtue.
As lawyers and writers, we tend to want to hurry. Time is money. Hurry the judge to make a ruling. Hurry the witness to answer your questions. Hurry the process of writing. But good writing and good ideas cannot be rushed. They are like fine wine. Sometimes, they need time to develop and ferment in the oak barrels we call our brain to be anything worth sharing.
6 (a). Perry Mason moments are for Perry Mason.
In my experience, they simply don’t happen. Enough said.
6 (b). Listen, listen listen.
So many times I see lawyers so locked into an outline of questions that they do not hear the witness’s answer which is gold for their case. I writer must listen to what the character is saying. What would the character say if you were there stream of consciousness. Some of my best writing happens this wasy.
7. Don’t forget to breathe.
Just as good tense writing needs comic relief, so does good lawyering. Sometimes, if you mess up in front of a jury, the best thing you can do is own it and laugh it off. You are human after all. You are just like your jurors – you just happened to go to law school and pass the bar exam and they didn’t. So forget the legal ease and legal words. Speak to jurors in plain English. Don’t talk to them like you are their superior. You are not.
8. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Your witness, your plot, your story. This is a representation of you. Do you want it to be adequate? Or do you want it to be great? Don’t write a half-assed query letter. Don’t do a half-assed deposition preparation. It will show.
9. Take them on the journey with you.
Whether it is in a courtroom or in a novel, the power of descriptive words and human imagination are your friends. Carry the jurors or your readers with you as you speak. They want to be entertained. They want to go with you to where ever you want to take them. (See more on this below).
10. Never forget – it’s not about you.
It’s about your client, if you are a lawyer. It is about your characters and reader satisfaction, if you are a writer.
Even if you represent companies, there is a way to draw a story. I represented a tea company in Federal patent litigation. I thought, how am I going to make this company something the jurors can relate to? Instead of talking about the company, I talked about its founder, as a young man in India, picking tea leaves with his father in the fields, the morning air soft around them as they moved among the greenery. I talked about how much the boy cherished these times. I talked about him learning about something that would become his life’s passion, tea. I painted a picture for the jury. I took them on a journey of a young man, who eventually immigrated to the US and started this company from scratch. By the time I was done, it was not a company. The company had morphed into something more powerful. A boy and his journey in life.
I hope these items provide help and insight. I know just writing them out make me a better lawyer and a better writer.
Folks often joke about lawyers, comparing lawyers to “sharks.” This is supposed to be a derogatory thing as far as my chosen profession, law.
But after indulging by watching a little Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” this past week, I don’t think it is such a bad thing to be compared to a shark. It’s actually a compliment in many ways.
1. Sharks are smart and resourceful.
These are great qualities to have as a shark, but even better as a lawyer. Their ability to adapt to any condition is one of the reasons that sharks are practically a living dinosaur. Now, I am not saying I want to be known as a “living dinosaur” but…
2. Sharks don’t take no for an answer.
Anyone ever seen a 20 foot long, 2 ton Great White Shark say,
No, I don’t think I am going to eat that baby seal right now. I’ll pass thanks. I’ll come back later.
Once sharks are in, they are all in. Take it or leave it world. Love that. Enough said.
3. Sharks are always thinking ahead of the game.
As a lawyer with more paper on my desk than I care to admit, I wish I could think ahead of the game and throw some if it away. I get attached to a pile of paper that doesn’t need to be sitting here anymore. My “in box” just keeps getting higher and higher, no matter what I do. Keep only the essentials and think ahead of the game.
4. Sharks use every God given talent that God provided them.
Even though sometimes it may be gruesome to watch, sharks are so efficient, when they hunt and eat. There is never any wasted movement. Between all their senses, they harness the use of all that God has given them. Sharks can detect a single drop of blood (or a chicken nugget) in an Olympic sized swimming pool. Wow.
5. Sharks don’t care what anyone thinks of them.
Does the Mako shark worry and say, “Is my tail too long?” Does a Tiger shark say, “Hey do these strips make me look fat?” Does he Bull shark wonder, “How do I look in these jeans?” (Okay that one was my bad). Some of us need to be more like this. Confidence is everything in so many things in life.
6. Sharks are not solitary creatures.
Contrary to popular belief, this past week’s “Shark Week” reveals that sharks can and do work together to trap and kill food. I found this absolutely fascinating, given that we have been taught just the opposite growing up.
7. Sharks are opportunistic.
Sharks take full advantage of what each day holds. If they happen to be near an island with baby seals, they go to town on the baby seals that day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and shark “snacks.” If they are near an fisherman’s hook with a 500 pound Marlin being brought in, well, let’s just say the only part of that Marlin that makes it on the boat is the head. The rest goes to the shark. If a bull shark sees a license plate, it will eat it and sometimes spit it out. Now I can’t say I would eat a license plate. The point is that many of us worry and dwell on things we have no control over instead of looking for the good in what is directly in front of us.
8. Sharks come in all shapes and sizes.
From the Great White to the bottom dwelling Ghost shark, one need only watch shark week to learn that sharks come in all shapes and sizes. Just like humans.
9. Sharks are single-minded in their pursuits.
One need only watch a Great White shark attack from down below as it makes up its mind about its next meal. It rockets up and out of the water with dinner in its mouth – sometimes, its entire body breaches right out into the air. Fantastic and scary at the same time. At the end of a week on any given Friday, I wish I had that kind of singular focus, drive and determination. I need a weekend to recharge my batteries.
10. Sharks are like machines – they never quit and never surrender.
Maybe, this is why I admire sharks so much. They embody my personal motto – “never quit and never surrender.” They are who they are – killers, hunters, creatures of the deep. Relentless, resourceful, cunning. I wish I had more of these qualities. But then, after watching Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” I think maybe I do.
So the next time someone makes a lawyer/shark joke in your presence, and chuckles, smile at them warmly and say, “thank you. I appreciate the compliment.” You’ll blow them out of the water.
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the first two chapters of “The Burning Man.” I love not only the storyline that is keeping me on the edge of my seat, but the descriptive words that help with visualization. I think it was very clever of you to use a few mini poems in the beginning of the chapters because it gives you a hint of what the chapter is about, increasing excitement. Books with a storyline of mystery and murder interest me very much and I can never put books like those down. I can tell that my parents will have a hard time prying the book from my hands when “The Burning Man” is published! I will DEFINITELY share this book with my friends! I can’t wait until the rest is published!
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, here are some tips I have come up with to make you better at your craft.
1. Know thy audience.
This is common sense but so many of us forget it when we are writing. If I am writing something legal for a judge, what is the one thing that a judge does not have a lot of? Time. So I think what can I do to make whatever I am writing for this judge more reader friendly? Would the judge appreciate headings? Would white space between paragraphs make what I am doing more reader friendly and literally give the judge’s eyes a rest? How about sub-headings? The answer is yes. So these are all tools that can he used to make us better writers. The same is true for any kind of writing. Know thy audience.
2. Follow your characters.
What does this mean? It means that so many writers get caught up in what others think about their writing, that they loose track of (and faith in) their character’s motives. Think about what makes your character tick and write from that perspective. Don’t worry about the nay-sayers (unless it comes from your editor). Then take the criticism to heart and make what you are working on better.
3. Show – Don’t tell.
How many of us make this mistake when we are writing? My trick to overcoming this problem is to literally close my eyes and pretend that I am the character in the scene. Think about your senses. What would the character see in this scene? What would they hear? What would they feel (both emotionally and literally)? What would they smell? What would they taste? If you integrate the answers to these questions into your writing, you will take the reader with you into the scene. This is the magic of good writing.
4. Less is more.
Sometimes less is more. Yes, it’s true. To illustrate, I am reading a best selling author’s work right now. I am on page 147 of a 350 plus page novel. Without giving any names or a title, the novel could have opened on page 147. In the first few pages of this chapter, you get the information about the killer, the title for the book, you get information as to the killer’s psychosis, you get the back story of the family he murdered and you meet the protagonist of the novel and his detective partner. So what was covered in the first 146 pages could have been shelled out here with a little more depth. Saving 146 pages. Wow!
5. Follow your soul.
When we write, we worry about what people think. We worry about how good it is. We worry about what our agent is going to think. We worry about what our editor is going to say. We worry about what our friends and family are going to say. After all, writing is like giving birth. This is our baby that we are putting out there into the world to get torn apart, to be criticized and beat up. Think how great our writing would be if we took all the energy we spent worrying and redirected it into our writing? Enough said.
6. Do thy research.
As a lawyer, I cannot begin writing a legal brief until I have the facts from the client. The same is true as a writer of fiction or non-fiction. Even if I am writing a fictional character, I cannot write honestly about him or her without some research into their occupation, etc. Often research will actually make your characters richer because it may reveal motivations and perceptions that you had never thought about. Again, it comes back to what makes this character tick.
7. Do not be afraid of the blank page.
As a writer, we have all been faced with that time when you look at the dreaded 8 by 11 blank white paper and nothing comes to mind. You freeze. Your thoughts are blank. You think, oh cr-p, not this again. Your mind takes over with sheer paralysis. And you don’t write. As writers, we must write. Do not be overly critical. Even if you know what you are writing is cr-p, write it. Fill the page with cr-p, go on to the next one and fill it with cr-p. You can always come back and edit or delete later. The act of writing is a must. Like the ad says, Don’t over think it – just do it.
8. Think the five page rule.
When I sit down to write, I try to produce 5 pages of finished text. I have seen this mantra repeatedly in interviews with famous best-selling authors. They routinely go for 5 pages. Why? Think about it. If you write 5 pages a day for 20 days, you have 100 pages completed. Given the average length of a novel, you could have a novel completed in 2 and ½ months. A writers and editors dream.
9. One rule does not work for everyone.
Some writers are plotters and planners. Plotters plot out an entire piece of work from start to finish before they start writing. The opposite just write and let the story go where it may. Planners do some plotting but they let the story take over at some point. I am a Planner. I find it works for me. After about the first 100 pages, the story and characters take over for me. After this, I plot role reversals and decide which ones to use. The point is that every one has their own methodology and what “works” for them. Figure out and follow what works for you.
10. Remember to keep relationships strong.
Writing is a solitary task. Just you, your laptop and an obnoxious white sheet of paper. And yet, as writers, what is our greatest gift? It is the ability to meet someone, to look at them and create a character in our mind. It is our ability to take a reader to a place they have never been. It is the ability to transport a reader to meet someone new to them, who they will care for and hopefully cry for. It is about people and hope and love and faith. All part of the human spirit. All coming from human communications. So to be a better writer, we must interact with others. We must communicate with others and draw out the best in others. This is where strong characters come from. It is what makes for great writing. So nurture the relationships in your life. Nurture your friends. Appreciate your colleagues. And always write from the heart.
From Lori Warren
“The Burning Man” by accomplished lawyer Solange Ritchie grabbed my attention with the first sentence, “Jesus, what the hell is it?’ Pete Langley recoiled.” My intrigue grew as Solange Ritchie introduced the characters of this upcoming riveting novel. I felt as if I were actually at as crime scene. Evidence is clearly pointing to a serial killer in Orange County, CA. What in Catherine Powers’ Forensic Pathologist with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit’s past is driving her to solve the murders. The first two chapters left me wanting more …!
This morning, I was up early thinking about all the great benefits of living in the good old United States of America. I came to the US when I was just 11 years old from Jamaica with my family. Since then, we have all become naturalized US citizens.
Living in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, under then President Michael Manley who was a hard core socialist (and a very good friend of Fidel Castro), I saw the county change from a democratic ideal to a semi-socialist ideal.
I saw all the changes that came with that.
Basically, I watched the economy collapse and the crime rate skyrocket. I had school friends who were murdered. My family’s store was robbed and a family friend (who was a cop) shot to death in front of my father, trying to upend the robbery while it was in progress.
I can tell you first hand what it feels like to walk into a grocery store and see nothing on the shelves to buy.
I recall vividly the “states or emergency” when the Jamaican government literally put Kingston under curfew. If you were caught on the streets at night, you were in BIG TROUBLE.
Do not get me wrong, Jamaica was also a beautiful place to grow up. But the memories of Kingston in lock down makes me so glad to live in the US. I am proud to live in a country were rule of law means something and we have a Constitution that we hold dear. I am proud to be part of the justice system. I am proud to be a lawyer.
So an early Happy Birthday America.
May you flag fly free forever!
First off, thank your all of my many family, friends and supporters for the kind words regarding my new opportunity. It means so much to me to know that I have support. Along those lines, please keep spreading the word about THE BURNING MAN. I expert draft proofs on the novel sometime in mid-July. Then, I will start working on finalizing layout, cover art etc. with the folks at Morgan James Publishing. I want to thank W. Terry Whalin who has been a wealth of information as I move through this process. Also thank you to Amanda Rooker at Split Seed for the same reasons.
As far as my writing, Morgan James Publishing is reviewing at a second novel in the Dr. Catherine Powers series called BACK BURN. This thriller is set in Southern California with Cat pitted against a serial arsonist. Will she be able to catch him, or will he escape as Orange County goes up in flames?
And I am working on a third thriller novel in the Dr. Catherine Powers series, titled SEX SLAYER. Set in Southern Florida, Cat is faced with the seedy underworld of international sex trafficking and prostitution, while dealing with one of their henchmen, himself a sadistic serial rapist and murderer. At its core, this novel raises questions the role of political and legal corruption in the very real world of human sex trafficking – a crime that effects over 27 million victims worldwide.
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the first two chapters of “The Burning Man.” I love not only the storyline that is keeping me on the edge of my seat, but the descriptive words that help with visualization. I think it was very clever of you to use a few mini poems in the beginning of the chapters because it gives you a hint of what the chapter is about, increasing excitement. Books with a storyline of mystery and murder interest me very much and I can never put books like those down. I can tell that my parents will have a hard time prying the book from my hands when “The Burning Man” is published! I will DEFINITELY share this book with my friends! I can’t wait until the rest is published! Please keep the chapters coming.
How many of us, in our day to day lives, are plagued by that little voice inside?
You know it.
The one that says:
- “you’re not good enough,”
- “you’re not smart enough,” or
- “you’re not worth it.”
The one that tells us that we are going to fail at a task even before we even get started.
We all have heard this voice at some point in our life. But how you deal with it makes you a leader and a winner. If you allow it to consume you and if you listen to it before you ever start, then all is not lost.
Because contrary to what many of us think, failure is sometimes okay. As long as from failure, we get back up and keep going. This is the mark of a true leader.
Leaders fail every day.
But what they do not allow is for the failure to consume or define them.
They take it in stride as a learning lesson and keep on going.
Look at some of the great leaders.
Did Bill Clinton allow the Monica Lewinsky situation to define his presidency? No.
Did Nelson Mandela’s years in prison deter his spirit and his rise to leadership? No.
These are just a few that I can think of.
Bottom line, never allow FAILURE TO DWELL IN YOU. It is something to learn and grow from. It is not you and you are not it.
Thanks to all of you who have registered at solangeritchie.com for my novel and who have otherwise responded favorably to my blog and postings. It means so much as we move through life to know that what we are doing has an impact and is meaningful to those around us.
Along those lines, I was able to spend a few days with my family who visited (and who are still visiting) from Florida. They have had a tremendous impact on who I am now and hopefully the person I am destined to become. Also thanks to a new support group I have found called OC Writers. This group features a dynamic and talented group of local Orange County writers from various genres, like myself . I am looking forward to getting to know each of you more.
As for my writing, I started work on a third book in Belize. I continue to work on it even while hosting family here in town.
It is a challenge to find the time to write but like the Nike ad says JUST DO IT.
Whether it is in the morning when the house is quiet, or after work or dinner with the kids, the most important lesson in writing is to just keep writing. I have seen interviews with best selling authors who say consistently they produce 5 pages a day. Think of the work product we would all have if we produced 5 pages a day. Absolutely fantastic. It is doable. So let’s all dedicate ourselves to making it happen.
As for THE BURNING MAN, I should have edits back by mid July. I will keep everyone posted. Thanks again for the encouragement.