How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way?
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    Default How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way?

    I have an idea for a courtroom thriller and wrote out a few drafts. However, some readers have pointed out a huge plot hole, in that the lawyers, are surprised by witnesses testimony and did not see the ambushes coming... where as logically, the lawyers would have already known what the witnesses were going to say before trial. They would have found out at the deposition.

    I suppose that's true after thinking about it, the lawyers would have already known what the witnesses were going to say and what evidence would have been presented in the deposition. There would be no surprises at at the trial, cause all of that would have been covered at the deposition.

    So I am thinking I should change the story to a deposition instead of a trial. In a deposition both lawyers meet in a small office room and just bring in the witnesses, one at time, and ask them questions, instead of a courtroom.

    However, I feel this would lack suspense. The defendant isn't even there to face his accusers. Even though his lawyer would logically do the talking, him not even being there I think would take away a lot of the intrigue of how the reader perceives the situation, if he is not there to emotionally react to it all, even if it's mostly internal.

    There are also people in the back of the courtroom who have personal involvement in the case, such as loved ones, of the victims, who would have reactions while watching the case, who would also not be there in the room as all of this investigating and cross examining of the case goes on.

    So I was wondering, is there any ways I can make the deposition equally suspenseful, even though the defendant and the victim's loved ones, will not be able to there to react to everything, realistically?

    I also feel that not having a judge there to decide on what is relevant, admissible and fair, and what not, also can remove some of the intrigue.

    The deposition allows for the prosecutor and defense attorney to be surprised and not know what witnesses will say, and not know what evidence will bring till they go over it. The surprises are more important for the story to go, where I want it go, but it would be nice to have all that little drama as well, if that's still possible.

    What do you think? Thanks for the advice and input. I really appreciate it.

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    Pro Member   How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? Mick Scarborough's Avatar
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    This is a classic case of why the adage "write what you know" is so important. If you have no experience in the law field then you either need to avoid writing scripts about cops and courts or do some extensive research on the subject. To help you, study what a "hostile witness" is. Using that premise, you can still use the court setting.


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    My $.02: Stay in the courtroom. The audience requires no description or explanation about this venue because they've seen it many times before. The fact that the court also has an audience allows your viewers to immediately assume their perspective.

    Depositions a boring in comparison, and require some procedural exposition to explain the rules.

    I agree with Mick. If you really want to write a court drama, you need to do your research. Read, interview lawyers, watch videos (Making a Murderer, OJ Simpson ...), and sit in on a variety of courts.

    I highly recommend you attend traffic, and small claims courts for the sheer entertainment value of watching average people represent themselves; it's hilarious and pure. Many of these people will also use cliche and incorrect words in an attempt to sound lawyerly. It's a good example of how 'not' to write legal-speak.


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    Okay thanks. I have done a lot of research before and asked a few lawyers some questions. But I chose to write it with artistic license more for dramatic purposes, and skip over the deposition. However, because I chose artistic license, I am being told by readers that it's unrealistic that the lawyers would be surprised with what witnesses have to say, because they would have already known that from the deposition.

    As for hostile witnesses, I was told by lawyers in my research that hostile witnesses would not make a difference in the story, because anything a hostile witness would say would already have been covered in the deposition process as well. So if I go with the trial, there is no room for surprises, cause everyone already knows everything, which takes away from the suspense, or the characters finding out any new twists and turns, cause it would have already been covered before, even with hostile witnesses I was told.

    So if I am to not make it a deposition and go straight to the preliminary hearing or further, how would I do that plausibly? I have done the research and according to what I know from what I have been told, I cannot have surprises in the court room, and will therefore, have to make a deposition more interesting even though the key characters aren't all allowed to be in the same room at the same time to witnesses the surprises; or I will have to make things up and deviate from facts for drama.

    What do you think?


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    Super Moderator   How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? mara's Avatar
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    You can have surprises in the courtroom if the lawyers discover new evidence - television shows make use of that all the time.

    Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com

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    That's true, however, I can not think of a reason for the evidence to be new though... at least not without it coming off as forced.

    There is also another possible plot hole. In my story the villains go after a witness the night before she is set to testify, with the aims of killing her, to prevent her from testifying.

    If this is a trial, then killing her will not do any good, because she would have already answered questions and given a statement at the deposition, and it would have already been recorded for the court to use as evidence.

    So since I want her to be killed and for her to not have any recorded testimony that can be used as back up, that means I would have to kill her off before the deposition.

    Is their a way to make a witness go to trial to testify, and then be killed, but not have any pre-recorded cross examination, that the court can use as back up, without it being a plot hole?


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    As I said before, if she was discovered during the trial, there would be no deposition record.
    The witness is discovered. Opposition requests a recess right before she is to testify. She's killed.

    Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com

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    Okay thanks, that's a good idea. However in my case, the witness is the victim of a kidnapping, and the kidnapper is the defendant. Because of this, the court would have already known about her, since she was the victim in the case, in which the whole crime started in the first place. So I cannot think of a reason for the prosecution to not have her as a witness, then all of a sudden bring her on later.


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    She disappeared and did not want to testify, then changed her mind. Figure out a reason why she wouldn't, but then changes her mind - maybe someone she loves is now threatened by the accused. Maybe she has some terrible disease that's going to kill her anyway, so she stops being afraid of him. Maybe he does something else - to a different person - that is so awful that it overwhelms her fear of testifying against him. You can come up with something.

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    It's true that she did not want to testify at first, and was avoiding being subpoenaed. But I was told by lawyers, that the case would not go to trial without a victim in the first place, since you need a victim to prove a crime. So if that's true, then I have a paradox, since I need to have a victim willing to testify, before there is enough to go to trial with in the first place.


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    That's ridiculous - if the victim is dead, you can still prove a crime. Just write it! Sell the story with good writing and stop worrying so much about what everyone thinks. 99% of your audience is neither lawyers nor cops, and if you write it well, they won't give a damn.

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    But the victim does not die until the night before she testifies. She will be alive before that and I do not have enough to go to trial before that though, cause the court case starts long before she dies. That's the problem.


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    I give up.

    Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com

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    Sorry I don't mean to come off as stubborn, it's just that the case is like a building of Jenga blocks, where if you pull one out, the whole thing could likely fall apart, if that makes sense.

    What if instead of a trial, I made it a preliminary hearing? The third post in the forum said that a trial is good because you get to assume the perspective of the audience, but if a preliminary hearing doesn't have an audience, can you still get the same effect? Would a preliminary hearing make more sense, since the victim could be subpoenaed but the court has not heard any statements from her yet, cause it will be her first appearance?


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    Your readers might be right. Your readers might be wrong. Only you can decide the scope of the rewrite.

    Should a writer tear apart a story to rebuild it as something better? That pretty much answers itself. If you think you can improve your script, don't shy away from the challenge.

    My short film is based on the first act of a feature I co-wrote. The feature script was pretty good (made a top-10 list), but we learned so much from the short, we kicked over the Jenga tower and are making the feature better.


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    Well if moving the court scenes to a deposition instead of a trial, would make more sense, than maybe that will improve it. It's just I feel that it will not have the same impact since the major characters will not all be allowed to be in the same room together for the impactful moments. For example, here is a courtroom trial scene, from the movie Fracture (2007). Sorry about the poor quality, it was the only youtube video of the scene I could find. The scene is at 53:00 minutes into the video:



    Now in that scene after the villain foils the hero, and the hero looses for the time being, the villain and the hero give each other an exchange of looks, when the camera zooms in, as you can see in that scene.

    Now let's say that the writers thought that it made no sense for the movie to take place all the way in a trial and the plot should be re-written to be in a deposition instead.

    In the deposition, the villain wouldn't even be in the room, and the hero would find out about the villain's foil, second hand, and after the fact, and that exchange of looks would not be there, at the time of the villain foiling him. So can things like that, where characters are not legally allowed to be in the same room, hurt the storytelling?


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    Pro Member   How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? Mick Scarborough's Avatar
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    Sorry to say Pony but the "lawyers" you are speaking to are massive idiots. The hostile witness does solve your original problem and cases can go to trial without a victim. Here in Tampa we put a man on death row for the murder of a little girls who's body we have never found.


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    Okay thanks. But what if this particular lawyer was smart and would argue that the court cannot prove a crime happened without a victim to confirm it? Or what if the judge was the type to not go to trial without a victim and felt there wasn't enough proof?


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    DON'T WRITE IT THAT WAY. (Yes, I'm shouting).

    Screenwriter and script consultant: www.maralesemann.com

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    When you say do not write it that way, do you mean don't have a deposition?


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    Don't write it THIS way:
    But what if this particular lawyer was smart and would argue that the court cannot prove a crime happened without a victim to confirm it? Or what if the judge was the type to not go to trial without a victim and felt there wasn't enough proof?
    You are creating the universe in which this story takes place, so don't let it happen.

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    Why does the lawyer have to be stupid though? Who said that it takes place in that universe?

    Plus in my research of the universe I keep reading that a prosecutor has to prove that there was probable cause that a crime was committed. If this is true in the legal system how is the prosecutor going to prove it, if he cannot produce a victim of a crime in the first place?

    Last edited by ironpony; 05-29-2016 at 02:30 PM.

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    Pro Member   How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? Mick Scarborough's Avatar
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    Blood alone can be proof of the presence of a victim. The disappearance of a victim along with spilled blood of that victim can be proof of homicide.


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    Yep for sure. However, the trial is a kidnapping indictment. The victim is a witness in the case, and she is killed the night before she is suppose to testify. Her death would be a separate charge and a separate trial, because the defendant is currently on trial for kidnapping. So wouldn't the murder be a separate trial later, or can they somehow squeeze that into the current kidnapping trial?


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    Pro Member   How can I make a courtroom thriller interesting in this way? Mick Scarborough's Avatar
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    Normally it would be a separate trial however charges can be combined into one trial if the prosecution has enough to go t trial.


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    Okay thanks for the advice. I will write it something like that. Thanks.


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    When it comes to your advice on Mick, on using the hostile witness scenario, I was wondering, why would a prosecutor cross-examin a witness on the stand, if the witness was hostile? Wouldn't a prosecutor request to pause the trial, and have a the witness be questions in a grand jury hearing, or preliminary hearing instead, so the prosecutor can know what she is going to say first?

    Cause if a prosecutor chooses to put a hostile witness on the stand in a trial, then the case can be ruined, without a grand jury hearing to ascertain what she would say first. So why would the hostile witness scenario work, if the prosecutor would logically conduct a private hearing first to find out?


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    Because if a witness is declared hostile, the attorney is allowed to use leading questions... something that is not allowed normally. Lets take the Hillary email scandal. Her aid was part of the illegal emails and her testimony on the stand would be contrary to the prosecution because she is on Hillary's side. So as a hostile witness the prosecution could say "you knew the emails contained classified information, right?" This would not be allowed if the witness was not declared hostile.


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    Okay thanks. In my script though, the kidnap victim, does not want to get involved in the case, has had death threats upon her, or so she says... So if she is subpoenaed to testify, since she will not answer the police investigator's questions, why would the prosecutor put her on the stand, in a trial, not knowing what she is going to say? Why wouldn't he have a grand jury hearing before the trial? Even if he is allowed to ask leading questions, and the judge grants it, wouldn't he still want to have the GJH first, since he does not know what she is going to say, leading questions or not?


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    Okay so your reluctant witness is the victim? If thats the case then you have no trial and thus no story.


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    Oh? why is there no story, because of that?


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    Because if the kidnap victim wont testify, the prosecution cant take the case to trial unless other victims are known and willing to testify. So if there is no case, your story is dead.


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    Sorry I should have mentioned, the cops who rescued her can also testify, that they discovered her in what appeared to be a kidnapping scenario, but without her testifying, the whole thing comes off as suspicious. The prosecutor would still want to subpoena her to a grand jury to find out what she will say, if forced to testify on the stand, wouldn't he?

    Only one of the kidnappers was caught and the others got away, so wouldn't the prosecutor and the police still want to know who they are, and still subpoena her to a grand jury to compel her to tell them to find out still?


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    You can write it any way you want and hope the audience buys it. Reality is different from movies. In reality there is a saying. "No victim, no crime". If a girl is kidnapped, even if there are 100 witnesses there will be no arrests and no trial if she refuses to cooperate with the investigation or testify. The reason is if she doesnt testify then she is no longer a victim in the courts eyes. The only exception to this is homicide since the victim is dead, the state prosecutes on the victim's behalf. In your case, no trial would ever take place. As soon as the victim tells the state attorney she wont aid in prosecution, the case is tossed out.


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    Oh okay. This is very interesting cause when I researched and asked some lawyers, they said that a case can proceed without a victim, as long as the police or other witnesses can prove there was a victim. And that it's called 'evidence based prosecution'. I looked it up here as well:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eviden...ed_prosecution

    But this is the first time I have heard of a case not going to trial if the victim refuses because of evidence based prosecution. Does that go for many states? Also, if the victim refuses, and the case cannot proceed, can the prosecutor subpoena the victim to testify, if the prosecutor is ambitious about nailing the one kidnapper who was arrested?

    But even if the case was dropped, and she was no long a victim, could the prosecutor still subpoena her to testify at a grand jury in order to find out more about what she can tell of her kidnapping, in order to catch the others?


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    Sorry I can only speak for American justice and in the USA that doesnt happen except in domestic violence cases as the wiki page mentions. Even then 95% of those cases never make it to court.

    To answer your question a grand jury can subpoena anyone but that doesnt mean she has to speak. She only has to show up. In film making sometimes you have to kill your baby. Over the past year you have posted a dozen scenarios that many have analyzed and told you the script doesnt work. Its time to kill your baby. You need to rewrite it and kill off the ideas that dont work even if you love them.


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    Okay thanks. But it's hard to know what works and what doesn't cause in my research, I got all this info from lawyers, saying that the case would go to a preliminary hearing and the prosecutor would just subpoena her. So I don't know who to believe as to what is actually real, when legal opinions are not the same. So I guess I write it the way I want and hope the audience buys it, if that's best.

    Like for example there are a lot of movies where a witness is subpoenaed to take the stand and will not answer questions and the judge will tell the witness that she/he has to, and the audience buys it. So I could I write it like that then?

    Last edited by ironpony; 01-24-2017 at 01:00 AM.

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    Of course you can. Most people are not educated about the law process and will believe almost anything they see in a movie.


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    Yeah I've noticed a lot of movies seem to make things up compared to the research I have done, and the information you have given me in comparison. As long as it's okay... Thanks for the help.

    I think it might be the better way to go, cause the real justice system is just not near as dramatic to write about, mostly because in reality, the system is designed to reduce drama, where as fiction needs to be designed to enhance it, if that makes sense.


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