Have a question about how to use the law in your story? Need a character, plot twist or setting? Ask me in the comments section and I'll be glad to answer. I welcome all comments and questions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Using the Law to Enhance Your Sci Fi, Fantasy And Horror Story

           You have to build a whole new world if you’re writing sci fi, fantasy or horror. That world will necessarily have laws. And you’re the one who decides what those laws are. Thinking about the law and how it applies to your world will open up possibilities, provide inspiration, and make your story more believable.
If you think about it, you’ll realize the law touches everything your characters do, especially in sci fi. Their alarm clock went through customs and is regulated. Does your sci fi protag buy an experimental alarm clock that runs on nuclear fusion? Their cereal box has legal requirements about how contents are listed and what claims it can make. Does your horror or fantasy hero change into something non-human after he eats cereal contaminated with a mysterious chemical?
 Pharmaceutical companies have to test their drugs extensively before your characters can take them. Companies handling hazardous materials must dispose of them in particular ways. Your characters might lose a friend or relative if someone doesn’t follow the law. Or maybe the whole world changes because something deadly was set loose.
Anything that can go wrong for your characters might end up in court, or have already been there. You think the law doesn’t affect your sci fi character? Think again. Here are some ways sci fi, fantasy and horror stories are affected by the law.
Civil Rights: If you write about monsters, do they have civil rights? In the True Blood/Southern Vampire series, supernaturals who come out aren’t allowed to marry. The undead have property rights. In V, the aliens want parity with humans for nefarious purposes.
Justice: Are the courts in your alien world fair or is justice the privilege of the few? A series that showed the futuristic courts quite a bit was Star Trek. How the justice system works in your world will define how your characters behave and how they view the world.
Corporations: Are the corporations in your world unregulated? Did they run amok and cause major league damage? Do they have civil rights like individuals or are they treated differently? They could even have more rights than people in your story. Companies gone bad are great fodder for sci fi and horror. Does your corporate villain have to hide its evil activities for fear of legal consequences, or is the bad deed out in the open?
Character building: Even if the law or lack thereof isn’t a major plot point, it still affects your characters and the way they live. Are your characters divorced? Was it contested or amicable? What’s the custody situation? If there was an accident or death, was there a lawsuit? Insurance? Is your character well off or destitute? Do they have to testify in an upcoming proceeding? Do they rent or own their home? Legal situations affect the day to day life of your characters. If you’re not making a world from scratch, you’ll want to do some research to make sure you get the law right in your story.
Thinking about the law and how it affects your stories can make them richer. You may use the law as background or as a major plot point. When you’re building a sci fi, horror or fantasy world, don’t forget about the law and the part it plays in your story. I hope I’ve provided you with some inspiration for your stories.  If you use the law, do the research. A little research can go a long way to help build trust with your readers. Make sure your plot is believable and rings true.
Now that you’re filled with ideas, start writing!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Using The Law To Enhance Your Romance Story

Romance writers frequently tell me the law doesn’t apply to their stories. Yet the law is everywhere in romance. If you start thinking about the law when you write, it can be used to enhance your story, flesh out your characters, get you unstuck, or even inspire you.

Let’s talk about some ways the law might impact your romance novel.

Background/characterization: Your characters come from a background that affects the way they view romantic relationships. If the characters’ parents are divorced, the nature of the divorce could color their view of romance. Was the divorce contested or amicable? Traditional or collaborative? Juno is the first time I’ve ever seen collaborative law used in a story, and it was used correctly. Collaborative law is the hottest trend in family law, so it might apply to your romance story.

Current lifestyle: If your characters are divorced, do they have custody or visitation? Is it still in court? The terms of divorce determine how much money they have to live on, when they have the kids, what property they own. It’s important to think about how the terms of divorce affect your characters’ daily lives. If it’s still in court, do they have to miss work to testify? Does their lawyer tell them not to date until it’s over? Do they feel pressured about the divorce proceedings?

Death and accidents: If they’re single due to a death, or if someone in the family has had an accident, then the law will certainly apply. Did they inherit or is the will contested? Did the decedent have insurance? Is there a lawsuit pending over the injury or wrongful death? Did they win a lawsuit over the death of their loved one or lose it? They could either be very well off or destitute as a result of a death or injury of a family member.

Stalking: Dating can turn to stalking, and stalking can turn into an injunction hearing. Maybe that’s where she meets Mr. Right. Or maybe your character is falsely accused of stalking because she pursued the wrong Mr. Right a little too aggressively.

Dating at work: Is your character dating someone from work? He’ll encounter sexual harassment laws or anti-nepotism policies. The company likely has policies in place that define what sexual harassment is. It may have policies prohibiting employees from dating each other, or prohibiting supervisors from dating subordinates. In The Mentalist, the boss made two characters choose between transferring away from each other or breaking up. In Dexter, two characters pretended to break up yet stayed together, violating their employer’s policy. (They are now married and inexplicably working together with one as the boss, which is no way going to be allowed at that particular employer, so it bugs the heck out of me.)

See? I told you the law applied to your romance novel. If you do write about the law, do some research to make sure you’re getting it right so the 1.1 million lawyers who are also readers won’t throw your book across the room.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Happens After You Kill Off the Parents in Your YA/Middle Grade Novel? (C’mon, You Know You Did It). Eight Ways the Law Affects Teen and Children’s Stories

           When I speak at writer’s conferences about how to use the law in stories, the first reaction I usually get from anyone other than mystery/thriller writers is, “But the law doesn’t apply to my story.”
Young adult and children’s writers are the first ones to tell me the law has nothing to do with their stories. But the first thing we usually do (yes, I write YA and middle grade too) is kill off the parents or have them divorce. Why do we do it? Because we want the focus to be on the teens in the story, not on the adults. We have to provide a reason why someone that age is running around doing stuff their parents wouldn’t normally let them do in a gazillion years. I actually heard of a group of children’s writers who called themselves something like, “Let’s Kill the Parents.” Sad, but true. Adults don’t fare well in most kid lit.
So now that they’re orphaned, lost at least one parent, or are in a split home, you think the law doesn’t affect your character? Think again. Here are just some of the ways the law may come up in your young adult or middle grade story.
1.      Divorce. Which parent makes the decisions relating to the child, or do they both make the decisions? Where your character lives, whether they shuffle back and forth between parents, is a major part of their life. Is the divorce acrimonious or amicable? Are they still fighting or is it resolved? Does the child have to face testifying? All these issues can add depth to your character, angst, conflict, and relationship issues. Even for older characters, divorced parents can affect every romantic relationship they have. Their world view of relationships may depend on how that divorce went. If Bella’s parents weren’t divorced, would she have moved to Forks in Twilight? The fact of her mom’s new relationship set the whole story in motion.
2.      Custody. Who has custody? Is it joint, shared, or sole? Whether the parents are alive or dead, your character has to have a home. Did they seek emancipation? Do they live with a distant relative they’ve never met? If Harry Potter hadn’t had an awful custody situation, would he have been as sympathetic?
3.      Inheritance. If one or more parent is killed, did they inherit? If not, who did? Is there a lawsuit over an accident or medical malpractice? Does your character or their family come into a bunch of money from a suit or an inheritance? Do they lose a suit and suffer financial devastation? Is there insurance? Who’s the beneficiary? Your character’s financial situation is key to how they live, how they get around, what resources they have at their disposal. The entire Series of Unfortunate Events book series related to issues of custody and inheritance.
4.      Siblings. Do the siblings live with your character? Or were they separated? Are there disputes over custody or an inheritance? Do they even know they have siblings? What would The Parent Trap have been had the custody arrangements been different?
5.      School. Even if the parents are alive and well, the law might still come into play. At school your character might run into issues of free speech. Do they write an article for the school newspaper that gets suppressed? Criticize a teacher on Facebook? There could be bullying issues. Discrimination. Civil rights (maybe a locker is searched). If your character is disabled, there may be issues of accessibility to facilities or materials. Everything that happens in school is regulated in some way.
6.      Dating. Dating can turn to stalking. Does your character need an injunction? What a different story Twilight would have been if Bella had sought a court order after Edward showed up in her room the first time. If your character is the victim of date rape, do they come forward? What happens when they prosecute or choose not to prosecute? Do they get falsely accused of stalking or rape? How does that affect them?
7.      Injuries. Is your character in an accident? Do they sue? Do they have to testify against a friend? Can they pay their medical bills? Do they get the medical treatment they need? Are they beaten up by a bully? Do they prosecute or sue, or do they stay quiet? If they don’t sue, who pays the bills for medical treatment?
8.      Work. Did your character get a summer job? Many young people new to the workplace encounter discrimination, unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, whistleblowing issues, and other workplace problems. Is your character savvy or clueless about workplace rights? It makes a difference to your story.
If you use the law in your story, do the research. Make sure your plot is believable and rings true. There are lots of resources available for your research. You can also ask a lawyer for advice on how to handle an issue in your story.
So there you have it. The law affects your story whether you like it or not. You can use it for ideas and inspiration, for background, for characters or settings, and to establish your characters’ personalities.
The truth is, the law is all around us. It touches everything we do from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed. That means it touches your story. You can use it to your benefit or choose to ignore it. But get it wrong at your peril. There are 1.1 million lawyers in the U.S. alone. Most of us read. If you do it well, we will be your biggest fans. Don’t make us throw your book against the wall.
I hope I’ve provided you with some inspiration for your stories, and some ideas on how to get your stories right. If I can help even one novelist keep from having their book thrown down in disgust, or one TV writer from having the channel changed, my work is done here.