Can you write a realistic courtroom scene?


Part One: Writing Courtroom Scenes

READERS LOVE COURTROOM SCENES because of the conflict built into every episode. This mirrors life because in all but a handful of situations, a court case involves at least two parties whose interests are adverse.

As writers we know the devil is in the details.  Much legal thriller writing suffers from unrealistic or naïve depictions of courtroom happenings. To make a story ring true, the author must understand the structure of the court system: who the players are, what motivates the parties to act as they do.

In this blog series, I’ll provide authors a primer on how to set that courtroom scene.


There are two broad categories of courts in the US: state courts and federal courts. In some ways these courts are similar, in other ways they are as different as night and day.

I am using broad generalizations, but for the most part state courts are somewhat casual, whereas federal courts are highly formal.

Most lawyers who practice in both systems consider a federal court appearance as the “big leagues.” So, if you are writing about a case of national significance, you probably want to set it in a federal courthouse somewhere.

And, yes, the court systems have their own set of courthouses.  There are state courthouses and federal ones. Often these are historic old buildings that lend themselves to a description in your book. On the other hand, some courts take place in re-modeled Wal-Mart stores.  Just think about the possibilities that creates for a wordsmith.

Tip One:  if you are writing a courtroom scene, go to the courthouse where you plan to set the scene and take a look around.  Sit in the gallery and watch the lawyers, witnesses and judges interact.  I guarantee you will walk out of that place with some pages in your head.

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